Pirates 6, Cubs 2: Weather, Good; Baseball, Bad

USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs aren't a very good team right now. The Pirates are. This feels very late-1970s to me.

The weather was awesomely perfect Friday afternoon, and that's worth a mention because it has been miserable most of the spring -- here's a sample of just how miserable from June alone. The game-time temperature was 80 with light winds from the east producing a nice breeze; there was bright sunshine and low humidity.

All of that is worth a mention because the baseball, from a Cubs standpoint, was pretty far from awesomely perfect in a 6-2 loss to the Pirates. About the only thing that went right was a Scott Hairston two-run homer that briefly gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the second inning.

Give Francisco Liriano credit -- he had Cubs hitters off balance all afternoon, even though he walked four, and threw his first complete game since his 2011 no-hitter against the White Sox. The Cubs had just two hits after Hairston's home run and... well, like I said, the baseball was far from awesomely perfect. Let's count the ways, shall we?

Jeff Samardzija kept getting touched up for hits and walks, and it was suggested by Jim Deshaies on the broadcast (thanks to BCBer elgato for relaying that info to me) that Pirates hitters were "sitting on" Shark's pitches, perhaps a suggestion that he was tipping his pitches. That happens, at times, to many pitchers; hopefully, he'll make the adjustments and not have that happen again.

Hairston, though he hit the home run, was bad in the field. Garrett Jones hit a ball that Hairston should have caught; instead, it went for a one-out triple in the fifth inning. Worse than the missed catch was the fact that Dave Sappelt, playing center field, basically stood around watching the play, instead of going over and backing up Hairston; if Sappelt had been there, Jones might have been held to a double and maybe he doesn't score. He probably shouldn't have scored anyway, as the infield hit by Jose Tabata to Starlin Castro was probably a bad call -- replays showed Tabata was probably out. Castro, though, took his time on the throw, which should have been a routine 6-3 groundout.

I'm not done criticizing either Sappelt or Castro. Sappelt had four bad at-bats, going 0-for-4; I mentioned in the preview that he had been 6-for-32 in the leadoff spot in nine games he started there before he was sent to Iowa. Now, 6-for-36 in that spot. Why would you ever put anyone like that leading off? Cody Ransom, who walked twice, would have been a better choice. This is a manager again giving in to the "speedy leadoff guy" meme -- you and I both know that never works, particularly with Sappelt, who had a lifetime .297 OBP in the major leagues before Friday's game.

Starlin Castro... man, what a fall, from two All-Star selections to a guy who can barely hit, barely field, and got himself picked off second base after his only hit of the day, which was a nicely-placed double with two out in the eighth. That ended the inning, and with the Cubs already down 6-2, they weren't likely to come back against Liriano, but why would you, as a baserunner, put yourself in that situation at all? Was he not paying attention? It seems that almost every day, we get more evidence that Starlin Castro simply doesn't have his head in the game at all times.

Beyond that, the Cubs got one good inning of relief out of Henry Rodriguez, another good one (the only 1-2-3 inning by a Cub pitcher) from Pedro Strop, and a not-so-great one from Hector Rondon, who labored through a 21-pitch, three-hit, one-walk, one-run inning. Seems like it might be time for him to come down with Rule 5 Disease and head to the DL. We are past that 90-day time frame for him to have to stay on the roster, right?

Regarding Sappelt, I have this suggestion. He really isn't a major-league player. Friday, the Royals gave Jeff Francoeur his unconditional release after he cleared waivers. I think the Cubs should sign Francoeur -- as that link says, it'd probably be for the minimum salary -- and platoon him in right field with Nate Schierholtz. Scott Hairston could play center field against lefties, platooning with Brian Bogusevic or David DeJesus, after DDJ returns. Hairston has played 149 career games in center field, including 14 last year. You're only talking about putting him out there once a week or so. Francoeur has been awful this year, but his lifetime numbers vs. LHP: .287/.338/.471 in 1,272 at-bats. Why not give it a shot? It costs almost nothing, and if he's still awful after a couple months, you release him. If it does work, you've got a useful platoon outfielder who's good defensively and a great clubhouse guy.

Dave Sappelt... not so much.

Final note for today, unrelated to the game: Ian Stewart has signed with the Dodgers. Imagine the Dodgers coming to town in early August with both Stewart and Carlos Marmol on the roster -- a possibility, at least.

Anyway, the Cubs will try to even up this series Saturday with Edwin Jackson facing Charlie Morton.

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