PITTSBURGH – It was a lousy all around day for the Pirates at PNC Park this afternoon, as the Cubs defeated the Pirates 9-6, their third win of the four game set. This cut the Pirates lead for the top Wild Card spot down to just two games.
Charlie Morton struggled, the Pirates continued to display poor fundamentals, and the team might have lost one of their best hitters, Jung-Ho Kang, for an extended period of time.
Their misfortunes began in the first inning when Morton induced a routine double play ball to Neil Walker, who flipped the ball to Kang while Cubs’ right fielder Chris Coghlan made a hard, but legal slide into Kang’s planted legs in an attempt to prevent the Pirates from turning the double-play. Kang made an accurate throw to first base to complete the double play, but Coghlan slammed into Kang’s left-leg, bending it backwards and leaving Kang writhing in pain laying on the ground at second base.
The Pirates’ trainers had to help Kang back to the clubhouse, as he was unable to put any weight on his left-knee. After the game, Clint Hurdle said that Kang was sent to the hospital for an MRI, but there has not yet been any further update on his condition.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, their day did not get much better after Kang’s injury.
The Cubs’ offense battered Morton for six runs over four-plus innings of work in which he allowed nine hits, five of them for extra bases.
When Morton has struggled this season, much of that has stemmed from his inability to execute against left-handed hitters. Today was the same story, as the Cubs lefty-heavy lineup got to Morton early and often. Of the nine hits Morton allowed, six of them came from lefty batters, including a two-run homer by Anthony Rizzo – a change-up down-and-in that he golfed over the Clemente wall.
“That pitch is six, seven inches off of the ground, but it’s in and [Rizzo] dropped the barrel to it,” Morton said after the game.
Morton struggled for much of his outing by not having command of his fastball and change-up, and the Cubs made him pay.
“He wasn’t able to get that two-seamer in on the left-handers and bring it back over the inside edge,” Hurdle said.
When Morton is at his best, he pounds his two-seam fastball in on lefties, which makes them susceptible to his wicked curveball and improved change-up. However, today Morton didn’t have a good feel for any of his weapons.
“Some of the balls that I threw today that I got hurt on weren’t up [in the zone] at all, they were just bad pitches,” Morton explained. “[My change-ups] weren’t running like they have been. My change-up has been a pretty good go-to pitch for me and today it was just terrible. I wasn’t consistent with my fastball location and my curveball I wasn’t throwing for strikes.”
The Pirates’ offense was able to scratch out six runs off of Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs pitching staff, but were unable to overcome Morton’s poor pitching and more poor execution on the defensive side of the ball and on the base paths.
The fundamental mistakes continued to cost the Pirates. The defense was only charged with two errors, but they are fortunate that they weren’t charged with several more, as they failed to complete routine plays throughout the game.
Before his injury, Kang dropped a Walker throw for what would’ve been an easy double play that would have prevented the Cubs from getting on the board in the first inning. In the fifth inning, Pedro Alvarez was charged with his 20th error of the season when he missed a routine groundball to the left of the first base bag, putting runners on first and second base with no one out. Then, Francisco Cervelli whiffed on a Joe Blanton pitch that advanced both runners into scoring position. That miscue forced the infield to play in, and former Pirates reclamation project Clayton Richard lashed a double into the left-center field gap to score both baserunners, giving the Cubs an 8-4 lead.
The Pirates also cost themselves on the base paths, when Jordy Mercer ran himself into a key out in the third inning. After singling to center field and moving Neil Walker to third base, Mercer was caught between first and second base when he wrongly anticipated the throw from the outfield going to third base. Pedro Alvarez followed by hitting a two-run homer that would have been a three-run homer without Mercer’s baserunning blunder.
“We continue to get in our way,” said Hurdle. “We got in our way on the bases and we got in our way in the field. We missed execution off of the mound. We didn’t play a very good game.”
** After the Pirates took game one of this four-game series, the Cubs really took it to them in all aspects of the game during the final three games of the series.
“We’ve been outplayed these last three games,” Hurdle said.
The Pirates were extremely fortunate to have an opportunity to win games two and three despite being out-pitched and out-hit in those contests. Their saving grace was the 21 total men left on base by the Cubs that allowed the Pirates to stay close. That was not the case today, as the Cubs capitalized with runners in scoring position, especially with some help from the Pirates’ defensive lapses.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play well enough,” Hurdle continued. “We didn’t play good enough baseball to win and that’s the focus point – we’ve got to play better baseball moving forward.”
What was a comfortable lead over the Cubs for the top Wild Card position has now been cut down to an uncomfortable two-games, and the Pirates will need to rediscover their A-game quickly as they head to Los Angeles, a team that is 49-22 in their home park. The Dodgers will begin the series with their two aces, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, on the mound in the first two games.