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Cubs 3, Pirates 2: Zach Davies dominates, bullpen nearly implodes

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The pen nearly ruined a terrific performance by Davies.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Before I get to Zach Davies’ excellent performance in Friday’s 3-2 Cubs win over the Pirates or the bullpen meltdown in the ninth inning, I know you’ve got a burning question about Craig Kimbrel’s availability. Here’s the answer:

That’s an answer that’s not really an answer. Obviously Kimbrel was unavailable; he had pitched four times since last Saturday, and even with Thursday’s off day David Ross felt that it would be best to not use him. Kimbrel’s expected to be available tomorrow.

All’s well that ends well, even though it took three Cubs relievers and 33 pitches to get through a ninth inning that ended with the bases loaded with Pirates when Rex Brothers finally got Bryan Reynolds to hit a lazy fly ball to right to end it.

So let’s talk about the good stuff in this game instead, and I’ll get to Zach Davies after we look at the three Cubs runs scored.

Joc Pederson led off the bottom of the first with a single, took third on two infield outs and scored on, well, this [VIDEO].

Phillip Evans, who was a Cub a couple of spring trainings ago, was playing right field for only the seventh time in his MLB career. It showed on a windy day at Wrigley; he just dropped Anthony Rizzo’s fly ball and Pederson scored.

The Cubs made it 2-0 in the second. David Bote singled and Davies sacrificed him to second. That brought up Pederson [VIDEO].

That was the second of Pederson’s three hits on the afternoon, something really good to see. Hopefully this is the beginning of Pederson getting out of his season-long slump.

One more Cubs run came across in the third. Javier Baez and Rizzo singled and both moved up a base on a wild pitch. Matt Duffy brought Baez home [VIDEO].

So it’s 3-0 after three and Davies is cruising. This is the Davies I’ve been telling you about, the one the Cubs thought they were getting. He was getting weak contact ground balls and lazy fly balls to Kris Bryant in center field. The first Pirates baserunner was a HBP with one out in the third. Pirates pitcher Trevor Cahill tried to sacrifice and instead wound up pushing a bunt where no Cubs fielder could make a play, for the first hit. I found myself thinking, “It would be really weird if that were the only hit.” Davies got out of that inning unscathed, and in the fourth got some outstanding defense from Rizzo [VIDEO].

The Cubs, meanwhile, were about out of offensive chances. They did get two runners on leading off the fifth, but Rizzo hit into a double play.

Meanwhile, Davies breezed through the fifth and sixth, helped out by a double play behind him. The seventh, though, brought trouble. A seeing-eye single, line drive hit up the middle and walk (Davies’ only walk) loaded the bases with nobody out.

That’s when Davies helped himself with his own defensive ability [VIDEO].

That was a slick play, and Davies got the next hitter to hit a comebacker for a 1-2-3 double play.

Davies was at 81 pitches (52 strikes) through seven and actually had a shot at a Maddux. I thought Ross might let him try, but Davies was scheduled to lead off the seventh and more offense was desired. Nick Martini, just added to the active roster when Ian Happ was placed on the injured list, batted for Davies and hit a medium-deep fly to center.

You know, given that Kimbrel was down, it might not have been a bad idea to send Davies out there for one more inning. In any case, this outstanding start for Davies lowered his season ERA by nearly two runs (8.22 to 6.30) and now, over his last four starts: 3.86 ERA. That’s a little closer to the guy Davies should be, and the key today: Just one walk, after 18 bases on balls in 23 innings prior to this game. This is what I expect we will see from Davies going forward — maybe not seven shutout innings every time, but Hendricks-like pitching in which you see a few singles and weak contact overall, with good defense behind him.

The ninth inning was nearly a disaster. Andrew Chafin, who had thrown a good eighth, was left in to face the lefthanded Colin Moran, who singled. Ryan Tepera was summoned and struck out Evans, but then gave up a long double that eluded both Bryant and Jason Heyward. Two things about that: First, why wasn’t Jake Marisnick in the game for defense in the ninth? Maybe he catches up to that ball. Second:

There appears to be something to this. Heyward will be 32 in August, he still makes all the routine plays and still has a great arm, but... as players get older, they can lose a step like this. It’s something to keep an eye on.

Anyway, a groundout scored a run to make it 3-1, but now there are two out. During the subsequent at-bat, Tepera wild-pitched the runner to third. No matter, right? Two out and that’s not the tying run?

It mattered. The next Pirate singled, making it 3-2 and bringing Brothers into the game. That wasn’t any help either, pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo singled and Brothers hit a batter, loading the bases.

Thankfully, with a 3-2 count on Reynolds and the crowd loud and on its feet, this happened [VIDEO].

All’s well that ends well, I suppose, but I’m guessing the brass is going to have to re-think bullpen roles on days Kimbrel is not available. For Brothers it was his first save since 2013 (!) when he posted 19 of them for the Rockies.

There’s one more note I wanted to make about this game, regarding this play in the eighth inning [VIDEO].

The Pirates challenged the call and at least in the ballpark it wasn’t clear what they were challenging — apparently that David Bote had missed second base on the force play. It was absolutely clear from that video that he had done so — even looked that way live — and the call was confirmed by the replay crew.

So the Cubs have a great outing from Davies and a nice offensive game from Pederson, both very good signs, in posting their fourth straight win. Let’s get that bullpen in order, hmm?

The Cubs will go for five straight Saturday afternoon when they face the Pirates at 1:20 p.m. CT. Trevor Williams gets the start for the Cubs and Wil Crowe will go for Pittsburgh. TV coverage will be on Marquee Sports Network.