The Chicago Cubs moved within three games of the Pirates for the first Wild Card spot by hammering the Pirates 5-0 in a lop-sided affair on Tuesday night.
J.A. Happ came into tonight’s contest struggling mightily since the All-Star break, and that trend continued. Happ was only able to last 4.1 innings, giving up eight hits and four earned runs.
Happ ran into immediate trouble in the first inning. The Cubs loaded the bases on an error by third baseman Aramis Ramirez and singles by Chris Denorfia and Anthony Rizzo. Happ then walked Jorge Soler to force in a run, but was able to minimize the damage by inducing two straight groundouts.
The big blow came in the third inning when Happ allowed doubles to Rizzo and Starlin Castro, followed by a David Ross single, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Happ was lifted from the game with one out in the fifth inning after allowing another double to Rizzo. He battled inconsistencies with his command during the entire outing, and threw 99 pitches before being lifted.
“There were some solid sequences throughout the evening,” Clint Hurdle explained after tonight’s game. “The overall consistency, we’ve got to get some improvement there. We saw a quality pitch in just about every at bat.”
Although Happ only walked two batters, he still administered six three-ball counts. Tonight was his third consecutive start in which he was unable to make it through five innings. In 17.1 innings since the All-Star break, Happ has given up 22 hits, nine walks and has an 8.31 ERA.
Overall, Happ now has a 4.78 ERA and is dead last in baseball out of the qualified starters in average innings-per-start.
of the 79 pitchers who have made 20+ starts, none have averaged fewer innings per start than JA Happ (5.37) pic.twitter.com/JhxLYmKZTP
— Forbes to Federal (@ForbesToFederal) August 5, 2015
With the recent injury to A.J. Burnett, the Pirates will need much more from Happ as well as from the rest of the back end of their rotation. Charlie Morton was terrific on Sunday against the Reds, and he has the ability to be a solid number three starter when he is on his game. Jeff Locke has cooled off a bit since his red-hot June and early July, and will look to get back on track tomorrow night versus the Cubs.
**Jake Arrieta absolutely dominated the Pirates for the third time this season, limiting them to just two hits and three walks over seven scoreless, stress-free innings of work. Arrieta has now given up just 11 hits and two earned runs in 21 innings against the Pirates this season. If the current standings remain the same and the Pirates and Cubs were to meet in a one-game Wild Card playoff, it would be interesting to see if the Cubs would choose Arrieta to pitch in that game over Jon Lester.
**Arquimedes Caminero provided the lone bright spot tonight in his 2.1 innings of work, giving up no runs and striking out six batters. This was Caminero’s fourth consecutive outing in which he hadn’t allowed a run.
Caminero said after the game that he’s feeling a lot better with his mechanics, and that he is “trusting the process.” Caminero turned to his off-speed pitches early in the count, keeping the Cubs’ hitters off-balance and prohibiting them from sitting on his fastball.
**I had an interesting talk with Michael Morse before today’s game about the San Francisco Giants recent playoff success. Morse believes that one of the big reasons is their relaxed approach.
“One of the key things [the Giants] do is, they try not to over-stress during playoff games,” Morse explained. “You tend to try to play better than how you’ve been playing, but how you’ve been playing has been working. So whether you know it or not, you’re changing your game, where-as [the Giants] try to relax even more. A lot of people say in the playoffs that every pitch counts, every pitch is important – this and that. [The Giants] try to think more [along the lines of], just have a good at bat and don’t think about every pitch meaning so much. And it actually works. It relaxes you, and you’ve seen what they’ve done three out of five years.”
Morse mentioned yesterday that he believes he can provide some guidance to the more inexperienced players on the Pirates roster, which could hold some significance heading into the stretch run. Having a wealth of experience heading into October can’t be a bad thing.