Pirates 4, Cubs 0: Two Losses In One

Justin K. Aller

The Cubs lost a game and a player on a wet night in Pittsburgh.

Two things I will not miss seeing now that the Cubs have left Pittsburgh:

The Cubs were shut out by the Pirates 4-0 Thursday night, completing their series with three losses in the four games. The second loss referred to in the headline is Emilio Bonifacio, who suffered what the team later termed a rib-cage injury when he swung awkwardly at the second pitch he saw. The ball wound up being hit on the ground to shortstop, but Bonifacio wasn't even able to run to first base; he fell to the ground and had to be helped off the field.

Let's be realistic here. After a ridiculously hot start, Bonifacio hit just .214/.257/.301 in May and was off to a similar start in June (.216/.256/.297). His overall numbers of .266/.311/.344 (.655 OPS) are almost dead-on to his career averages (.263/.321/.341). He is who he is -- a versatile player who's competent at several positions and who can steal bases, if he can get on base (10 steals through the end of April, just three since).

So the team will miss being able to mix and match with him out, and an injury like this one likely puts him out for several weeks. It was reported on Twitter Thursday night that Ryan Sweeney, who was supposed to be playing another game for Kane County in a rehab assignment, was pulled from the lineup. It seems likely he was headed for a plane to get to Philadelphia to join the team there, and that will be the roster move announced later today. What we'll likely see, then, is Sweeney in center field, Junior Lake moving to left, and more playing time for Luis Valbuena (who's been monstrously hot lately) and Darwin Barney, who's also been playing well. While Barney's overall numbers are still poor, he is hitting .269/.296/.423 with four doubles in 26 at-bats in June, which is at least good enough to let him play for a while to see if that's for real. Mike Olt could also wind up playing a bit more.

All of this is to say that there wasn't much to talk about regarding Thursday's game, which was delayed 20 minutes before it began and another hour and 15 minutes in the seventh inning, long enough for WGN-TV to run its entire 9 p.m. newscast before going back to the game in the middle of an at-bat. The Cubs haven't had any rainouts in Pittsburgh in recent years, but it seems as if there's a rain delay or two nearly every year when they visit PNC Park.

In between rainshowers, the Cubs had seven hits, including two each from Valbuena and Barney, but never seemed anywhere close to scoring a run. The injury to Bonifacio left just three bench players, which meant that Jeff Samardzija had to bat for himself in the seventh inning with the team down 4-0. He doubled, one of just five Cubs to get past first base all night.

I've talked a lot about the eight-man bullpen and how it limits manager Rick Renteria's flexibility -- an example above -- but Renteria likes things the way they are:

In another sign that the Cubs are protecting their young arms, manager Rick Renteria said Thursday there are no current plans to trim the eight-man bullpen they have carried since April 24.

"It gives us an opportunity to make sure we have protection for the guys (and) make sure we have some room with (them)," Renteria said.

The extra relievers have stretched an already-thin bench, but the versatility of Emilio Bonifacio and Luis Valbuena has alleviated some of the concerns. The Cubs did have one instance on June 1 when Jeff Samardzija was knocked out after only three innings and reliever Brian Schlitter had to bat in the seventh inning because of a lack of depth. But Schlitter did single.

"It's not a concern for me, to be honest," Renteria said. "I'd rather have the ability to use the relievers we have in situations."

Oh, well. Just wait until the Cubs have some extra-inning games where multiple relief pitchers bat. Even though there was the example given above regarding Schlitter getting a hit, and Samardzija getting one Thursday night, that's not going to be the norm. Cubs pitchers are 19-for-125 (.152) this year with 49 strikeouts.

Regarding Samardzija, it was neither his best game nor his worst, but it hardly mattered, because after he allowed the Pirates a pair of runs in the fifth inning, the game was essentially over. It was the fifth time in Shark's 14 starts that the Cubs were shut out and the ninth time the Cubs have been shut out this year.

Samardzija he now ranks 136th of 137 qualified starters in the major leagues in run support (Hector Santiago of the Angels is the only one below him). At 2-0, perhaps the deficit could have been closed, but the Cubs didn't listen to the advice we here at BCB gave them, and they pitched to Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen didn't homer Thursday night -- the first time in the series he hadn't -- but his two-run double in the sixth put the game out of reach. For the series, McCutchen was 8-for-14 with three doubles and three home run. He drove in nine of the 17 runs the Pirates scored in the set.

Enough of that, please. And it won't be long before the Cubs will see him again, as the Pirates will be at Wrigley for three more games starting a week from today. Please remember this during that series, Cubs.

The Cubs' road trip through the state of Pennsylvania continues Friday night in Philadelphia, with Jake Arrieta scheduled to face Roberto Hernandez. And guess what? There's rain in the forecast.

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