Pirates 3, Cubs 2: So Close, And Yet...

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Francisco Liriano came the closest of any pitcher so far this season to ending the Cubs' no-no-hit streak. And like the 7,649 starters to come before him, he failed... but his team won anyway. Such is the tale of the 2013 Cubs.

Here's the biggest piece of news you missed while you were watching the Bears' last-minute comeback win over the Vikings Sunday afternoon:

Yes, that's right. Francisco Liriano no-hit the Cubs for six innings, sending @CubsNoHitStreak into palpitations, but Lake's ground ball that was stopped by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer in short left field went for a single, breaking up Liriano's attempt at his second career no-no.

Not more than a minute later, Welington Castillo sent a Liriano offering into the seats in left field at PNC Park, tying the game 2-2 and silencing the capacity crowd there.

Could the Cubs win the game? These are the 2013 Cubs, so the answer is, "Of course not"; Pedro Strop hit Andrew McCutchen, Marlon Byrd hit a soft popup into short left-center that Starlin Castro just barely missed catching (it would have been a really nice catch, so don't blame Starlin), and just-acquired Justin Morneau singled in the eighth-inning run that sealed the Pirates' 3-2 win over the Cubs. The Bucs won three of four in the series, and it was the Cubs' 31st one-run loss of the season (with 20 one-run wins). The Cubs are making a habit of bad one-run records in recent years:

2013: 20-31
2012: 15-27
2011: 25-28
2010: 22-32
2009: 16-22

Even in the division-winning years, 2007 (23-22) and 2008 (24-22), the Cubs didn't have great records in one-run decisions. If the Cubs play four more one-run games in the remaining 13, that would be the most for the team since 2000, when they played 57 such games (27-30).

Travis Wood posted yet another quality start (for whatever that somewhat-misguided stat is worth), his 23rd; he was touched for a run before the second hitter of the game finished his at-bat, on a triple and a wild pitch. But a solo home run by Pirates backup catcher Tony Sanchez was the only other run he allowed. And for all the flaws inherent in the QS, there are just four starters in the major leagues this year who have more than 23: Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, James Shields and Cole Hamels. Wood has had a very good season and I hope the Cubs consider extending him this offseason.

Back to the one-run decisions for a moment: You can see what happens when a team puts together a good bullpen, as the Pirates have; they're 27-21 in one-run contests, a big reason why they are in first place in the National League Central. The Cubs need offensive help, obviously, but better bullpen work could make a big difference in that one-run record.

To add the proverbial insult to injury for those of us who remember those times 40-plus years ago when the Cubs were regularly defeated by the Pirates, Pittsburgh wore throwback uniforms Sunday from the 1971-76 era. The Bucs won the National League East four of those six years and the World Series in 1971. Over those six years, the Cubs never had a winning record against the Pirates (they managed a 9-9 split in 1973) and overall from 1971-76 were 37-68 against Pittsburgh.

This is why those of us who remember those days are somewhat reluctant to cheer outwardly for the Pirates as they awaken from their 20-year slumber. We remember days of dominant Pirates over the Cubs. I don't want to see those days return, but I fear they might be.

The Cubs head to Milwaukee for another four-game series that starts Monday night, with Edwin Jackson facing Wily Peralta. The Cubs are 3-4 so far on this trip; I suppose that isn't too bad, but Miller Park has been a house of horrors for the last couple of seasons for the Cubs, despite the Cubs' series win there in June.

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