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Pirates 4, Cubs 3: Sweat a grip

The Cubs could have, probably should have, won this game.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Maybe you can explain this one to me:

This can’t be a new issue, right? And it can’t be something that only affects him, right? Jake Arrieta said he tried quite a few things to fix this:

Arrieta (6-5) said he put Dermabond on his thumb between innings, but the moisture on his body was evident from his soaked jersey.

"You try to do the best you can under the circumstances, and sometimes you can't make it work," Arrieta said. "That's how it worked out.

"That was kind of the story of the fifth. I looked for rosin, dirt, pants. I couldn't find (a dry spot). I tried to take something off a pitch and hit ( Freese) in the back. And I threw a curve to the backstop."

That inning was the Cubs’ undoing in a frustrating 4-3 loss to the Pirates.

Now you’re going to hear me talk about first-inning runs again. Jake was responsible for at least one of them with his fielding on the very first pitch of the bottom of the first [VIDEO].

Jake’s faceplant on what should have been an easy comebacker put Adam Frazier on first base. Does Gregory Polanco still hit a home run if Jake has recorded two easy outs? We’ll never know.

But Polanco’s two-run homer gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead. That makes 57 runs (54 earned) allowed by Cubs starters in the first inning, a 7.25 ERA. Cubs starters overall have a 4.68 ERA, but that drops to 4.10 in innings after the first. It’s a real problem. You can’t keep expecting the Cubs to come back when their starters are putting them behind when the game first begins.

Jake decided to take matters into his own hands:

Not much of a launch angle nor velocity on that one:

Still, the two-run homer, hit after Kyle Schwarber walked with two out in the fifth, tied the game. Random fun fact about Jake’s homer:

As has been the case so many times this year, that lead lasted about five minutes. Jake gave up a leadoff double to Jordy Mercer and Frazier singled him in to give the Pirates a 3-2 lead. That’s when Jake threw the wild pitch and hit the batter mentioned in the quote earlier, and Brian Duensing was summoned with the bases loaded. Ian Happ bailed the Cubs out of that jam [VIDEO].

To me, Happ looks like one of the most awkward center fielders I’ve seen. And yet, he makes the routine plays well and occasionally makes nice plays like this. He’s relatively new at the position, so I’ll give him a pass for “awkward” as long as he can handle balls hit in his direction.

The departure of Arrieta with two out in the fifth meant that he has now failed to complete five innings in either of his last two starts. This is troubling, especially with the high pitch counts (94 Saturday night, 82 in the previous outing).

Cubs pitchers continued the “first-pitch problems” issue. Jake had it with the first pitch of the game. Justin Grimm had it with his first pitch of the sixth inning, which was deposited into the seats by Andrew McCutchen. That turned out to be important, because Addison Russell got that run back in the seventh [VIDEO].

Russell’s sixth home run of the season made it 4-3. Addy is hitting .333/.364/.857 over his last six games (7-for-21) with two doubles and three home runs. The Cubs could use someone on a hot streak to start carrying this team. Maybe it’ll be Russell.

The Cubs had a chance in the eighth when Happ doubled with one out. Clint Hurdle then called on Felipe Rivero, who has been excellent for the Pirates this year. Rivero walked Kris Bryant, putting the tying and lead runs on base, but then retired the final five Cubs he faced and that, as they say, was that.

The frustrating thing about the Cubs’ play on this road trip is that they have alternately looked like world-beaters and the worst team in baseball. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. The six-run ninth inning on Friday looked a lot like the 2016 Cubs, and you’d think they could have built on that. But they seemed to revert to some of the bad habits they’ve piled up this year in Saturday’s loss, which dropped them to 10-10 in one-run games.

Nevertheless: Still just 2½ games out of first place, the 2017 Cubs can still go on a run and take charge in the N.L. Central, a division no one wants to seem to win. They’ll go for the series win over the Pirates Sunday afternoon at 12:35 p.m. CT. John Lackey goes for the Cubs against Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon. The game preview will post at 11 a.m. CT.