Bullpen Falls Apart, Pirates Swept By Cubs At PNC Park

By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
This has been a series to forget for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Following the toughest road trip of the 2011 season thus far, the Pirates and their fans were looking forward to returning to PNC Park for a seven-game homestand against two teams who were toward the bottom of the N.L. standings.  After three start losses to the Chicago Cubs, the Buccos entered tonight’s game trying to avoid a sweep to their division rivals, while also hoping to climb back to the .500 mark.
Despite a huge six-run inning tonight, the Pirates still came up short, losing their seventh straight game, dropping two games below the .500 mark, and have now fallen seven games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the N.L. Central.
James McDonald made the start for Pittsburgh tonight, hoping to end the losing streak and avoid the four-game sweep.  J-Mac threw seven innings, giving up four runs on just four hits, but did surrender three homeruns.  His on-mound opponent, Rodrigo Lopez, gave up six runs on seven hits through just four innings.
The Cubs got on the board first with the long ball, which has recently become their most reliable asset….at least in this series.  Geovany Soto hit a solo homerun in third inning to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.  Carlos Pena and Blake DeWitt followed that up in the fourth inning with a solo homerun and a two-run shot respectively, stretching the Cubs’ lead to 4-0.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Pirates’ bats finally got it going in the fourth inning.  Garrett Jones led off with a double, and later scored on Ryan Ludwick’s RBI single, his first as a Bucco, to get on the board.  After back to back singles by Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Doumit, Xavier Paul beat out a double play ball, allowing Ludwick to score from third base.  After a Brandon Wood walk loaded the bases, James McDonald hammered a bases-clearing double into the left-centerfield gap to give the Pirates the lead.  Andrew McCutchen’s RBI double scored J-Mac, stretching the Buccos’ advantage to 6-4.
The two teams’ stranded base-runners back and forth over the next few innings…until the eighth inning.
The typically-reliable Daniel McCutchen gave up two singles to Reed Johnson and Starlin Castro, then hit Darwin Barney to load the bases with no outs.  Clint Hurdle quickly brought Jason Grilli in, who gave up an RBI single to Aramis Ramirez to bring the Cubs within a run.  Hurdle then brought in Joe Beimel, who walked Pena on a full count to tie the game.  Jose Veras came in and got the Pirates out of the inning, but he did give up a sacrifice fly to Marlon Byrd, which scored Barney, giving the Cubs a 7-6 advantage.
The Cubs retired the final six Buccos in the eighth and ninth innings to close out the game relatively easily.  Jones recorded the final out of the game, hammering a fly ball to deep center field, just short of the warning track.
The Pirates lost in every way imaginable in this series.  The Cubs brought their big bats to PNC Park this week for the most of the series, and the Buccos simply couldn’t keep up.  Tonight, the offense finally delivered with a huge fourth inning, but they couldn’t muster another run the rest of the night, and the Cubs came alive in the fourth, taking advantage of the Pirates’ bullpen’s mistakes, scoring three runs in the eighth.
While earlier in the year, the Pirates found multiple ways to win games that they probably shouldn’t have, they have found ways to lose these games against the Cubs this week.  The starting pitchers had a rough start to the series, then the offense struggled last night, and tonight, it was the bullpen’s turn to surrender. The Bucs now have a losing record against the Cubs this year, and have fallen three games under .500 at PNC Park.
They won’t have much time to regroup, as the San Diego Padres come into town for a three-game series this weekend.  The Pirates will be trying to end their longest losing streak of the season tomorrow evening. 
Record Vs. Cubs: 6-7
Record Vs. N.L. Central: 25-20
Record At Home: 26-29
Overall Record: 54-56

Chad Carlson

Co-Editor of Fans From The Stands, Pirates' Beat Writer For Armchair Report, Sports writer for AMN, SteelTownRock And Music City Encore Editor

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