Pirates 2, Cubs 1: Congratulations, Pittsburgh

Brian Kersey

For the second consecutive day, a playoff berth was clinched at Wrigley Field. One of these years, it will be the Cubs doing that. Until then, it's getting a little old.

Even if Dale Sveum somehow manages to survive this season and is retained for 2014 (something I don't think is going to happen), can we at least stipulate that "Wavey Davey" won't return as third-base coach?

David Bell has sent many runners to their collective doom at home plate this season and Monday night, his bad send of Nate Schierholtz cost the Cubs a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth; instead, it wound up a 2-1 loss to the Pirates that clinched a postseason berth for Pittsburgh, their first in 21 seasons.

I've watched the replay of that send several times. Schierholtz was barely around third base when the ball hit the infield; a slight bobble by Marlon Byrd in right field was, apparently, the catalyst for that send. The ball simply wasn't deep enough, and it was picked up by center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who has one of the best and most accurate arms in baseball. First baseman Justin Morneau's relay was also accurate. Granted, the play was close, but the send should never have been made. If Bell holds Schierholtz, Brian Bogusevic would have batted with both the tying and winning runs in scoring position.

Instead of a possible stirring comeback win, the Cubs registered their 92nd defeat of the season; the "tragic number" to clinch last place in the National League Central is down to one. One more Cubs loss or Brewers win puts the Cubs in fifth place to stay. The loss was also the 49th this year at Wrigley Field, tying the franchise record for home defeats in a season (set in 1962, tied in 1966), so the Cubs would have to win both of the remaining home games to avoid breaking that mark.

This is really inexplicable; even some of the worst Cubs teams of recent vintage managed to play reasonably well at home (2000, 97 losses, 38-43; 2006, 96 losses, 36-45; 2012, 101 losses, 38-43). This year's 35-43 road record (with three games to go) is significantly better than last year's 23-58. What causes this? I have no answers.

The Cubs had another stirring eighth-inning comeback from a 1-0 deficit, as they did Friday against the Braves, this time simply tying the game instead of taking the lead. Bogusevic led off with a single, advanced to second on an infield out, was wild-pitched to third, and scored on a Donnie Murphy single. The game might have gone to extra innings if not for Kevin Gregg allowing a solo home run to Starling Marte after striking out the first two batters he faced in the ninth. Pedro Strop had also been warming up, but Gregg was (apparently) called on because Strop had worked three straight games Thursday through Saturday. I suppose that makes some sense... but Strop was warming up again in the ninth and would have pitched the 10th inning if the Cubs had tied the game.

So the only two runs allowed by Cubs pitching Monday night came on solo home runs, the one by Marte in the ninth, and Neil Walker's in the first off Jeff Samardzija, who struggled a bit with command (three unintentional walks) but still managed to throw six decent innings. He'll get one more start this year, likely the final game of the season in St. Louis this weekend.

Props to Carlos Villanueva and Hector Rondon, who threw 1-2-3 innings in the seventh and eighth. As I have written before, it appears Rondon is one of the better Rule 5 picks by the Cubs, and he will likely stick in the 2014 bullpen. In 15 appearances since August 1 (19⅔ innings), Rondon has a 2.75 ERA, just six walks, and 19 strikeouts, and only one home run allowed. He hasn't allowed a run at all in September in seven outings.

The Cubs dropped to 20-33 in one-run games and back to six games under their Pythagorean win projection; the -68 run differential is close to that of the Giants (-63, 72-84 record), Mets (-63, 71-85 record) and Brewers (-55, 70-86 record).

The chilly evening brought about half the announced crowd of 32,289 to Wrigley Field; I'd expect about the same for Tuesday night's contest. Among those who came to the game was BCB's Erik Peterson, who sat with us; he and I had a long discussion -- civil, of course -- about the future of this team.

Meanwhile, the National League Central race stayed exactly where it was before Monday's game, with one more game off the schedule, as the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds all won. The only things left to be determined is the division title and who hosts the wild-card game; St. Louis leads both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by two with five games remaining. The Cubs will have a say in what happens, since all their remaining games are against two of those three teams.

So there are at least important games to watch, even if they don't mean anything for the Cubs. Just one thing I don't want to see: any more bad sends by "Wavey Davey."

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