I could sit here at my keyboard and nitpick the Cubs' 2-0 loss to the Pirates to death, but really, what's the point?
The Cubs were simply beaten by a better team Friday. They got another excellent start from Travis Wood -- who appears headed to being a Cubs representative on the N.L. All-Star team -- but simply could not hit Francisco Liriano and two Pirates relievers. That's been Pittsburgh's strength this year, an excellent bullpen. If it's any consolation, Jason Grilli, who posted his 23rd save in 23 tries Friday, has made 30 appearances. This was just the fourth time that any team had more than one hit off him. So there's that, even though the Cubs failed to score.
The Cubs haven't solved Francisco Liriano yet this year; that's now two starts for Liriano against the Cubs, 14 innings pitched, and four hits allowed. In this game, Liriano got himself in trouble in three different innings with walks; he totalled five walks for the game, but as usual, the Cubs couldn't hit with RISP. They stranded nine all told, and it didn't help when Alfonso Soriano reached in the second when Starling Marte dropped a routine fly ball but then got himself picked off. Soriano also later hit a ball that would ordinarily have been in the bleachers, but instead, with the wind blowing strongly in, was caught by Andrew McCutchen on the warning track.
Carlos Marmol surprised everyone by coming in and retiring the Pirates 1-2-3 on just 10 pitches, striking out two. I mentioned how unbelievable this was on Twitter and prompted this response:
That's 19 out of 538 innings in Marmol's career, about three and a half percent of his total innings. How does that compare to, say, Mariano Rivera? (OK, so we're comparing to the best ever. Hear me out.) Rivera has 118 such innings out of 1,242 in his career, about nine and a half percent. What about, say, someone like Kevin Gregg? Gregg has 28 such innings out of 655, about four percent. So actually, Marmol doesn't do too badly in this category, though it certainly feels as if we have seen such innings too infrequently.
In this game, Carlos Villanueva played the role of Marmol; after throwing a scoreless seventh, he allowed a walk, a couple of hits and hit a batter in the eighth, allowing the Pirates to score an insurance run. Not that it would have mattered, the way the Cubs were hitting against a Pittsburgh team that, quite frankly, is just better than the Cubs right now. The Pirates have done this the last couple of years -- played well before the All-Star break -- only to collapse in the second half. This year they look like they just might be a real playoff contender.
The weather was gorgeous, for once, although it could have been a bit warmer (60 degrees at game time). The game was so dull for a couple of groups -- one in the left-field bleachers, one in the left-field corner in the lower boxes -- that they spent quite some time in the late innings cheering people who had made huge stacks of empty beer cups. Mike asked me, "Would you rather see this or the wave?" Obviously, my answer was "this."
Although, of course, I'd rather see the Cubs win a few games. They seem close, very close at times, to being a competitive team that could at least have a shot at .500 this year. But sometimes, other teams are just better. Tip o' the cap to the Pirates pitching staff -- they were excellent Friday, and the Cubs just weren't quite as good.
Saturday, the game will begin at 3:05 -- you know how much I love those. I did take note of where the upper-deck shadows were toward the end of Friday's game. Even at close to 4:30, when the game ended, the shadow had not reached home plate. So if the Cubs are going to do these -- and today, they got approval for four Fridays this year (July 5, July 12, August 2 and August 16) to be 3:05 starts -- they probably should limit them to June and July, when the days are longest. By mid-August, that shadow will be a problem for hitters.