Cubs bats come up empty, then short in loss to Pirates

Cubs bats come up empty, then short in loss to Pirates
June 22, 2014, 4:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

The Cubs couldn’t touch Brandon Cumpton on Sunday. And when he finally came out of the game, the Cubs couldn’t capitalize.

Sunday’s series-finale with the Pirates was, unfortunately for the North Siders, all about what they couldn’t do in a 2-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

Pittsburgh’s 25-year-old right-hander silenced the Cubs’ bats, allowing just two hits over the course of seven shutout innings. At one point he set down 12 straight. He tossed four perfect innings. Plain and simple, the Cubs couldn’t touch him, and part of that had to do with their aggressive approach. Manager Rick Renteria said after the game that they were trying to attack him early in counts, but it just didn’t work, even after they tried to make some adjustments.

“I think the guys were trying, the thing was once they started taking one, he’d go strike one, strike two. And now you’re behind the eight ball. So you have to put yourself in a position where you’re fighting,” Renteria said. “The reality is our guys aren’t afraid to hit with two strikes, but Cumpton ended up attacking the zone a little bit more effectively. He, at times, is a guy that can get out of whack, kind of be effectively wild. But all in all, tip your hat to him.”

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That aggressiveness bit the Cubs for the second straight day. Saturday night, Vance Worley pitched a strong game and needed only 89 pitches to get through 6 2/3 innings. Sunday, Cumpton was even more effective, making just 87 pitches in seven innings. Conversely, Cubs pitchers watched their pitch counts rise much quicker. Travis Wood was chased before the end of the fifth Saturday with more than 100 pitches, and Sunday starter Jason Hammel threw 108 over his seven innings.

Cubs hitters must have felt some sense of relief when Cumpton finally made his exit after the seventh, and it showed. After picking up just two hits through the game’s first seven innings, the first two hitters reached via singles in the bottom of the eighth. Down 2-0, Renteria sent Wood up to successfully bunt those runners into scoring position, but pinch hitters Welington Castillo, fresh off the DL, and Justin Ruggiano struck out against Pittsburgh lefty Tony Watson.

That trend continued in the ninth against Mark Melancon. Again the first two hitters reached with singles — this time Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro had the back-to-back base knocks — to put runners at the corners with nobody out. After Luis Valbuena struck out, Nate Schierholtz drove in Rizzo with a fielder’s choice to make it a one-run game. But Junior Lake flew out to end the game.

The Cubs had their shots. But they couldn’t come through with clutch hits when they needed them.

“We had a couple opportunities,” Rizzo said, “but we didn’t get it done. ... It’s not a moral victory, we lost the game.

“(The Pirates relievers are) the best in the game. I feel like Watson’s one of the top left-handers in the game, so to get those two runners on early — that we didn’t capitalize on it is unfortunate.”

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With the offense lulled to sleep by Cumpton, it was Hammel who kept the Cubs close. Hammel put more men on base than Cumpton, but the results weren’t too different. He allowed just two runs, which both came in the third inning. Travis Snider hit a leadoff homer in that frame, and Josh Harrison came up with an RBI single to make it a 2-0 game.

Hammel finished having allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings.

But even with Hammel pitching well, it came down to what the Cubs offense couldn’t do. They couldn’t do a thing against Cumpton, and then when they made it interesting against the Pittsburgh ‘pen, they couldn’t finish the deal. It’s something they haven’t been able to do on a consistent basis this season. When they can do it on a consistent basis, perhaps things will go differently.

“That’s just another 2-1 loss,” Hammel said. “There’s a lot of close ballgames, but we’re playing well. Just can’t scratch and claw those runs that we need. It’s just a matter of learning how to do that, and that’s what’s going to make this team a winner.”