You're probably going to be quick to blame the Edwin Jackson Experience (see, yet another jazz-band name!) for the Cubs' 5-4 loss to the Pirates Wednesday afternoon and though Jackson had his first bad outing of the year, there were many other failures contributing to the Cubs' second straight defeat, the first time this year that's appened. The Cubs were also the last team in the major leagues to have a two-game losing streak.
Jackson pitched for the first time this year while the Cubs were ahead. Did that bother him? The situation where he entered was this: sixth inning, Cubs up 4-2, runner on second, one out.
He wasn't as sharp as his other outings and seemed to have trouble with command. But the ball that Neil Walker hit for a RBI single should have been knocked down by Addison Russell; had Russell done so, it would have likely kept Gregory Polanco at third. Did that bother Jackson? He then walked Pedro Alvarez. Still -- the Cubs are still winning at this point. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Welington Castillo tried to pick Alvarez off first base. The throw went into right field and Walker and Alvarez both advanced.
Would Jordy Mercer's subsequent single have scored Walker anyway? Maybe, but we'll never know. The error made the run off Jackson unearned, and that was the difference in the game. Give some credit to Brian Schlitter for getting out of the inning. Unfortunately, Phil Coke and Jason Motte couldn't keep the game tied, allowing the lead and eventual winning run to score in the seventh. Even at that, the biggest issue is that the Cubs stopped hitting after the fifth inning.
And that brings to mind the other reason the Cubs lost this game, failure to put the game away in that fifth inning, when they had already scored a run to make the game 4-1 and had the bases loaded with one out. I had envisioned two or three more runs in that inning, but instead, Starlin Castro hit into an inning-ending double play and the Cubs had only one more baserunner the rest of the afternoon. Chris Denorfia singled with one out in the seventh and was caught stealing. On today's broadcast, JD noted that Denorfia had actually gotten a very good jump and looked like he might have one stolen, but Pirates catcher Chris Stewart made an excellent throw to get him.
Hey, sometimes the other guy makes a good play and you have to give him credit. But the Cubs needed to take advantage of that fifth-inning situation and didn't. The Cubs were 2-for-7 with RISP and left only four runners on base -- but a lot of that was because of that Castro double play.
The Kris Bryant center-field debut was kind of a non-story; only a couple of balls were hit in Bryant's direction and even though Josh Harrison hit a double over Bryant's head in the eighth, I don't think Dexter Fowler catches up to that one, either.
Kyle Hendricks' pitching line doesn't look that great, but he didn't pitch too badly. One of the runs charged to him scored after he left the game, on the first hit Jackson allowed. Hendricks' only real mistake was the home run he allowed to Sean Rodriguez in the second. Hendricks didn't walk anyone and as usual, kept the ball moving around the zone. Sooner or later, he'll have better results, but as was the case for both losses in this series, the starters are simply going to have to go longer into games to save a bullpen that's starting to show signs of overwork even this early in the year.
All four games in this series ran over three hours. Note! This is not a complaint, just an observation. There seemed to be an inordinate number of foul balls Thursday afternoon. Cubs pitchers threw 171 pitches (in just eight innings!) and Pirates pitchers threw 141. 312 pitches seems a lot for a game that didn't have a bottom of the ninth.
Even though Jackson failed in his outing Thursday afternoon, I think I'd try him again in a high-leverage situation. The rest of the pen has had failures, too; it's worth it to see if Jackson can actually handle these types of situations.
Many of us would have been happy if we had been told, last Sunday, that the Cubs would split this series. On the other hand, once you've won the first two games of a four-game road series, a split is a disappointment.
Nevertheless, the Cubs still have a chance at a winning road trip as they head to Cincinnati, where the Reds are 4-2 (winning their first four home games, then losing the next two). The pitching matchups in this series will be identical to the Reds series last week at Wrigley Field: Jon Lester vs. Mike Leake Friday, Jake Arrieta vs. Anthony DeSclafani Saturday, and Travis Wood vs. Jason Marquis Sunday. The Cubs won two of three with those matchups in Chicago; let's hope they can do the same at GABP.