Lack of offense only part of Pirates' problems in loss to Cubs

Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Baseball

CHICAGO — The Pirates’ newfound strategy of attempting to win with no or precious few hits proved ineffective Monday night.

Primarily because their pitching and defense failed them.

Could be time to revisit the viability of trying to win games that way.

Jokes aside, the Pirates slogged through another slow offense night, suffered through some early pitching problems and even had another error from Ke’Bryan Hayes as they opened a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field with a 9-0 loss.

Over their past 18 innings dating back to Rodolfo Castro’s infield single in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game, the Pirates have just three hits, all of them coming on Monday.

The Cubs, meanwhile, enjoyed an eight-run first inning that ended this one, oh, only about a half hour after it started, a stain with starting pitching that the Pirates — whose starters had a 3.29 ERA in May, eighth-best in MLB — really haven’t experienced much.

Pittsburgh’s first hit of the night came when Michael Chavis singled off Cubs starter Wade Miley in the fifth inning, as their offense remains very much stuck in neutral. A 35-year-old left-hander who had been dealing with inflammation in his elbow, Miley breezed through seven innings, allowing the Chavis single, no walks and striking out six.

Working at a terrific pace, Miley threw 83 pitches, including 52 strikes, and probably would have had a chance at a Maddux had Chicago been a little less conservative with his usage.

After the Pirates’ hit-less stretch cleared the 13-inning mark, Castro followed Chavis’ single by grounding out to shortstop, the threat easily extinguished.

Yoshi Tsutsugo and Castro had singles in the eighth.

Chicago, which had dropped 10 of its past 11 home games, came out of the gates fast. Designated hitter Willson Contreras, enjoying a career offensive year, stroked a leadoff double and scored on another two-bagger from left fielder Ian Happ, who snuck a ball through a drawn-in infield.

Happ scored on catcher Yan Gomes’ single into left field off a Peters changeup, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons put the Cubs in front, 3-0, with a perfectly placed dribbler nubbed toward third base.

Wilson walked center fielder Rafael Ortega to force in another run, and Contreras broke things open — and made Wrigley erupt — when he crushed a hanging curveball from Wilson for a grand slam into the left-center field seats.


The ball left Contreras’ bat at 107.1 mph and traveled 422 feet — a bomb.

An eight-run first the way the Pirates have been going? Feels like it may take a week to get there. Miley sat the Pirates down in order in each of the first four innings and piled up five strikeouts his first time through the order.

If that wasn’t bad enough, another Ke’Bryan Hayes error led to a ninth Chicago run, this one coming in the fourth inning. The error was Hayes’ fifth this year, and he’s played a total of 275 defensive innings. For context, Hayes had four errors in the first 964 2/3 innings of his career.

Only two third basemen in all of Major League Baseball have made more errors than Hayes this season, and this miscue, coupled with a leadoff walk to Happ, meant Gomes’ double-play ball brought home a run.

Worrying about Hayes’ defense seems sort of useless. He’ll be fine. More concerning should be how the Pirates’ offense is comporting itself. Ben Gamel has been among the best hitters in MLB in May, his 18 hits through Sunday’s games trailing only Bryce Harper and Jean Segura, but there are far too many trouble spots in the lineup.

Hayes does not yet have a home run, doesn’t have a hit in his past three and has watched his average steadily drop from .333 at the beginning of the month until now. Bryan Reynolds (.667 OPS prior to Monday) has endured a season-long funk, the same for Yoshi Tsutsugo (.174 average, .233 slugging).

Sure, Pirates leadoff hitters have been productive, tying the Mets for the best average (.307) in the National League prior to Monday’s game. Daniel Vogelbach has been a solid addition, and Michael Chavis has hit lefties well — .344 average with seven RBIs in 32 at-bats.

But the sum of the parts simply hasn’t been good enough. As these past two games indicate, even if one was a win, they’re nowhere close.

Pitching-wise, Peters gave up five earned runs and recorded just two outs. He had faced 70 batters without allowing an extra-base hit, the longest for a Pirates pitcher to start a season since 1989, then gave up doubles to two of the first three men he faced.

Peters gave up his first runs this season as a starter, his first ever against the Cubs and saw his ERA jump from 1.83 to 3.98. Bryse Wilson followed Wilson and worked 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and two walks.

Tyler Beede made his Pirates debut and worked a scoreless seventh.

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