Cubs 5, Pirates 4: A Home-Run Lesson

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Cubs are having a good road trip, which isn't surprising given their good record away from Wrigley Field this year. The surprise is who they're defeating -- and how they're doing it.

Many years ago, Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins used to give up a fair number of home runs. It was said, though, that doing that was all right as long as you did it with no one on base; 64 percent of Jenkins' 484 lifetime homers allowed were solo shots.

Jake Arrieta took that lesson somewhat to the extreme Friday night in Pittsburgh, allowing three solo homers... back-to-back-to-back in the fourth inning by Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Garrett Jones, and all after the first two men were easy outs.

Fortunately, another home run -- this one a colossal blast by Anthony Rizzo with Luis Valbuena on base (also starting with two out and no one on base), a home run that cleared the right-field seats at PNC Park and nearly made the Allegheny River -- bailed Arrieta and the Cubs out and they defeated the Pirates 5-4, their first one-run win in almost three weeks. It was Rizzo's first home run since August 30; it would be nice to see him finish strong.

Brian Bogusevic also hit a two-run homer for the Cubs, who blew a 3-0 lead and then came back to win anyway. When's the last time you can remember them doing that?

In winning the game, the Cubs knocked the Pirates out of first place. Unfortunately, that meant the Cardinals took over the top spot in the National League Central -- I think pretty much all of us would rather have Pittsburgh win the division than St. Louis. However, in the absence of contending, this playing-spoiler thing is entertaining, at the very least. The Cubs' taking two of three from the Reds in Cincinnati has sent the Reds into a mini-tailspin; they lost again Friday night and now lead the second wild-card spot by 4½ games with 14 to go (the trailing Nationals have 15 remaining). I think you'll also agree with me when I say I hope the Reds blow it. (Thus, we are in the odd position of rooting for the Brewers for the next two days.)

Other good things from Friday night's game: after Arrieta finally had to leave after letting the leadoff hitter reach in the sixth, the Cubs' pen threw four shutout innings, allowing just three singles and a walk. Pedro Strop and Kevin Gregg did the setup and closing jobs you like to see on any team, setting the Pirates down without incident in the eighth and ninth. Gregg's save was his 32nd; that passed up Ted Abernathy (1965), Bruce Sutter (1977) and Lee Smith (1986) on the all-time Cubs single-season list. Next up, at 33: Smith (1984, 1985), Joe Borowski (2003) and Ryan Dempster (2005).

The Cubs' two home runs gave them 162 for the season, which ranks second in the National League (Braves, 168). Their total of 451 extra-base hits leads the N.L. by a significant margin (Rockies, 439). If only some of the other team hitting marks were as good, this team might be closer to .500; they rank 13th in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage and 14th in OPS+. (And that's not even talking about the abysmal team performance with RISP.)

Anyway, this beating-up on contending teams is fun. I wouldn't mind seeing more of it. The teams will meet again Saturday night, with Scott Baker making his second Cubs start against the Pirates' Gerrit Cole.

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