Alec Mills, who usually starts out well then runs out of gas in the middle innings, had the opposite problem Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. He was touched up for four straight hits and three runs with one out in the first inning.
But then Mills settled down, for a while, anyway, and the Cubs scored six unanswered runs.
And then... Mills did his usual sixth-inning fade, the Pirates came back, and the end result was an 8-6 loss, the Cubs’ seventh in a row. The defeat snapped a seven-game winning streak against the Pirates and was the Cubs’ 90th loss of 2021, making this their first 90+ loss year since the 96-loss 2013 season.
All right, there were a few highlights from this one, so let’s look at them.
The Cubs tied the game in the third. Austin Romine singled leading off the inning and one out later, Rafael Ortega doubled him to third. Frank Schwindel made the score 3-1 [VIDEO].
Ian Happ walked to load the bases and Matt Duffy singled in the Cubs’ second run [VIDEO].
The bases were still loaded, and Nick Martini’s single tied the game at 3 [VIDEO].
So that’s all good. The Cubs still had the bases loaded with one out. Could they score more? Nope. David Bote hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Cubs put three more on the board in the fifth. Ortega led off with a walk and Frank the Tank singled him to third, yet another multi-hit game for Schwindel, his 13th in 24 games this month and 23rd overall this year, all with the Cubs.
Happ gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead [VIDEO].
Matt Duffy followed with a double to make it 5-3 [VIDEO].
Duffy’s double moved Happ to third, where he scored on this sacrifice fly by Nick Martini [VIDEO].
Now it’s 6-3. What could possibly go wrong?
Sigh. These are the 2021 Cubs. Plenty.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth off Mills, who was then replaced by Adam Morgan. A sacrifice fly made it 6-4. Mills then struck out Anthony Alford. Two out, runners on first and second. Out of the inning, right?
Wrong. Hoy Park tripled to right-center, tying the game. Trevor Megill relieved Morgan but a single by pinch-hitter Michael Chavis gave the Pirates the lead. The Bucs tacked on another run in the seventh, helped in part by Ortega dropping a catchable fly ball. This is the sort of thing that tells me why Ortega has toiled away in the minor leagues for so long. He’s a spare part outfielder at best.
The Cubs put two runners on with two out in the eighth on walks, but Schwindel cranked a line drive to right directly at Ben Gamel to end that inning. In the ninth, Martini singled with two out, giving the Cubs another chance. That was Martini’s fourth hit of the game:
Cubs outfielder Nick Martini entered the night 5-for-27. He set a career high with four hits here against the Pirates.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 29, 2021
His last 3-hit game was Sept. 9, 2019, against the... Cubs.
Willson Contreras stepped up as a pinch-hitter, but grounded out to end the game. The Cubs offense did reasonably well, with 12 hits and five walks. They went 5-for-12 with RISP. Unfortunately, the pitching could not hold the Pirates down — and that’s a Pirates team that’s dead last in MLB in runs, the only one of the 30 teams that has not scored at least 600 runs (they have 587 including Tuesday’s game).
If you are following such things, the draft-order standings remained the same, with the Cubs trailing the Marlins and Nationals by three losses and likely locked into the No. 7 pick for 2022.
As for Mills, who will likely get one more start this year, Sunday in St. Louis:
Mills: "To be honest with you, I think this is probably one of the worst stretches I've ever pitched. It's pretty frustrating. I think a lot of it may have to do with not really commanding -- glove side of the plate to lefties especially."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 29, 2021
Cubs righty Alec Mills has a 7.82 ERA in five Sept starts (22 ER in 25.1 IP with 21 K/7 BB). Prior to this month, he had a 3.68 ERA in first 13 outings back as a regular part of rotation.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 29, 2021
Mills’ next start will be in October, but usually the numbers from a couple of days’ worth of October starts are lumped in with September’s, so he still has a chance to improve on those.
In the meantime, the Cubs still have two more games to play in Pittsburgh. One of them will be Wednesday evening. Kyle Hendricks, who has had the worst year of his career, will make his final 2021 start. The Pirates announced that one of their top prospects, Roansy Contreras, will make his MLB debut and start for them. Game time is again 5:35 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.