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Pirates 4, Cubs 3: Back to the drawing board

This looked like the bad old Cubs from August 2021.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

One of the things that’s been best to watch about the 2022 Chicago Cubs is their willingness to work counts, take walks and put baseballs in play.

That happened early on in Thursday’s game against the Pirates as they took an early lead, but from the third inning on they had just three baserunners and struck out — a lot — and wound up with a frustrating 4-3 loss to the visitors from Pittsburgh. The Cubs have now lost three straight for the first time in 2022.

Cubs hitters definitely worked counts in the first inning. After a leadoff single by Rafael Ortega and strikeout by Seiya Suzuki, three straight Cubs batters drew walks on full counts. The last of those, by Frank Schwindel, resulted in the first Cubs run [VIDEO].

The next batter, Jonathan Villar, made it 2-0 with this sacrifice fly [VIDEO].

In the second inning, the first two Cubs, Patrick Wisdom and Nico Hoerner, singled. After a strikeout, Suzuki’s ground out made it 3-0 Cubs [VIDEO].

A good summary of this game can be found in those three videos. All three Cubs runs scored on a play other than a hit (walk, sac fly, ground out).

Mark Leiter Jr. threw two good innings and then allowed the Pirates to get to within 3-2 on a two-run homer by Daniel Vogelbach. It could have been worse, except Leiter got Yoshi Tsutsugo to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Leiter got out of the fourth inning with no further runs. He threw 72 pitches (44 strikes). I’m kind of on the fence on whether he ought to continue in the rotation. He’s not bad... but he’s not really good, either, and I’m sure you see what I mean here. The Cubs need better than that. With an off day Monday, they could skip the fifth spot in the rotation the next time around if they chose to do so.

Ethan Roberts relieved Leiter and immediately got into trouble with a double and a walk after he struck out Roberto Perez to begin the fifth. One out later another walk loaded the bases, and Tsutsugo doubled in two runs.

Tsutsugo’s double was well past the infield, but this is the place where I wanted to note that the Pirates, as have several other teams this year, recorded some opposite-field hits against a Cubs shift. The Cubs don’t seem to take advantage of this sort of thing as hitters, but their opposition has, so far. This is something the Cubs ought to look at modifying as the season goes on, especially with some sort of modification in how shifts are allowed likely coming next year.

Roberts has talent, but two pitchers are going to have to be dropped from the active roster after games of May 1. As Roberts has options remaining, he’s likely to be one of them.

Anyway, that fifth inning was pretty much it. Cubs relievers threw well after that, allowing no further runs, but as I noted above, the Cubs had just three baserunners after the second inning and overall struck out 12 times. That’s just the third time in 13 games Cubs batters have struck out 10 or more times. Hopefully this is not a trend that will continue.

Seiya Suzuki’s 12-game on-base streak ended with an 0-for-4 night (though he did have that RBI groundout). Turns out that wasn’t the franchise record after all:

Other notes on this game: I was a bit surprised when David Ross sent Nick Madrigal up to bat for Patrick Wisdom in the seventh. Yes, on-base skills, etc. and Madrigal did draw a walk, but that move made the defense worse, and it would have been nice to have Wisdom’s power at the plate in the ninth inning instead of Madrigal, who grounded out to end the game.

The Cubs still have a positive run differential, by one (58-57), but have lost four of six one-run games this year.

It was the nicest weather day so far in 2022 for baseball at Wrigley (66 degrees at game time), and the third-largest announced crowd (32,341), of which maybe 25,000 were in the house. The Cubs’ average paid crowd of 30,004 through seven dates currently ranks eighth in MLB.

Weather permitting (and it might not), the Cubs and Pirates will meet again Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. In a rematch from last week at PNC Park, Drew Smyly will face Jose Quintana. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and also MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories).