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Pirates 9, Cubs 2: A tale of two games

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♬♪♩ “ ... and now, the end is near ...” ♬♪♩

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is cyclical.

Players and teams have upswings and downswings, good runs and bad, times when they look invincible, times when they “can’t buy a win,” as WGN-TV’s Jack Brickhouse used to remind us.

And so it is that we all always knew this run of great Cubs baseball would eventually come to an end, likely because key players would depart via trade or free agency.

But not like this. Never in my worst nightmares did I think that the Chicago Cubs, with the current core, with management supposedly devoted to “winning now,” would end a season like this, with a long losing streak in which absolutely nothing they did worked.

I mean, sure, this is the 50th anniversary of the 1969 collapse, but the Cubs didn’t have to commemorate it by having a losing streak very similar to the one that put them out of contention that year.

Oh, yes, the headline. Well, this game started out pretty well, at least with Kyle Hendricks’ pitching. Despite fielders kicking the baseball all over the place in the early innings, Hendricks took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Kevin Newman singled with one out to break it up, but Hendricks retired the next two hitters.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were nursing a 1-0 lead they had taken on this hit by Nico Hoerner in the fourth [VIDEO].

Hendricks had thrown only 65 pitches through six innings and appeared to be cruising.

Then he allowed four straight hits to begin the Pirates seventh — three of them on consecutive pitches. How does this even happen?

Eventually Hendricks was removed for David Phelps, and then Danny Hultzen, and I’ll spare you the details and instead simply note that the Pirates eventually finished the inning with seven runs on the board. How does this even happen? The Pirates had scored only five total runs in their last three games!

The Cubs’ defense, which had been such a big part of the 2016 World Series championship, has been markedly worse in 2019, and they committed five errors in this game.

The game wound up in a 9-2 defeat for the Cubs, one of the more embarrassing losses of the season. I’ll spare you the rest of the carnage, but I do want to note that this game was the Cubs’ 15th loss of the season when they entered the seventh inning with a lead. That’s a lot.

Compare that to this year’s 100-loss club:

Tigers: 11
Orioles: 11
Royals: 9
Marlins: 9

Granted, those teams all had fewer leads after six innings, but all four managed to not blow as many leads at that point as the Cubs have in 2019. This is just inexplicable. So is the Cubs’ 20-38 record in road night games, which has Joe Maddon completely perplexed:

“At night on the road, we get our butts kicked,” he said. “If you could actually take a good look at that yourself, please (do) and give me a good reason and I’ll take it. Because that’s been the mystifying part about this season.”

He’s right. This makes no sense:

Cubs record in road night games: 20-38
Cubs record in all other games: 62-37

Now if you can figure out why this is happening, please let Theo and Joe know, I’m sure they would like an answer.

Two years after the Theo’s Red Sox won their first World Series, they finished 86-76 and missed the postseason. Did Theo fire Terry Francona? No, he did not. Francona stayed, the Red Sox re-tooled, and won the World Series in 2007.

I’m still hoping the knee-jerk move, letting Joe Maddon go, doesn’t happen. I’ll have several post-mortems on the 2019 Cubs next week. I hope one of them isn’t a farewell to Joe.

I suppose I don’t really need to tell you what you already know, that this loss pretty much puts an end to any thought of a miracle Cubs finish. Beyond the Cubs’ losing streak, the Brewers have won 14 of their last 16. Give them credit for doing this after they lost their best player to injury. Mathematical elimination for the Cubs could come as soon as tonight.

For their part, Cubs players are as frustrated as we are:

Some of that family won’t be around in 2020. Of that you can be certain.

Meanwhile, there are five games left to be played, and the Cubs must play them. Wednesday night, Jon Lester will start for the Cubs against Dario Agrazal for the Pirates. Game time is again 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via WGN.