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Cubs 4, Pirates 0: Marcus Stroman keeps on rolling

And so do the Chicago Cubs, who have won nine of 11.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

LONDON — I have a confession to make.

This game started at five minutes after midnight London time. I had an extremely busy day, between arrival, clearing Customs and spending part of the afternoon at Westminster Abbey — a must-see if you are ever in London.

Thus I was beyond exhausted before this game even started and so, I did not watch it. Now I understand why European MLB fans don’t like night games!

And so it was a very pleasant surprise to wake up early Wednesday and find that the Cubs had shut out the Pirates again, 4-0, behind yet another excellent outing by Marcus Stroman.

The teams matched zeroes for the first two innings and then, with one out in the third, Tucker Barnhart homered.

Wait, what? [VIDEO].

Yes, there it is, actual video proof. Barnhart’s first home run as a Cub was also his first since September 3, 2022, for the Tigers against the Royals. Nice distance on that ball, too [VIDEO].

With one out in the third, Ian Happ hit a ball down the right-field line that was ruled a triple on the field. As you can see here, it was very close, but upheld on review [VIDEO].

After Dansby Swanson was hit by a pitch, Cody Bellinger brought Happ home with this fly ball [VIDEO].

That was a nice grab by Josh Palacios in left, but the throw wasn’t anywhere close to the plate.

Stroman kept mowing down Pirates while all this was going on. He completed seven innings for just the third time in 16 starts, allowing five runs and a walk, and striking out five [VIDEO].

The Cubs put the game away in the eighth inning. Mike Tauchman, not wanting to be left out of the “unusual guys to hit homers” party, hit his second in three games [VIDEO].

Tauchman got good wood on that baseball [VIDEO].

Again, I’ll give credit where it’s due: Tauchman has played a very good center field and his batting, thus far, has been impeccable. Who knows? Maybe playing in his hometown for the team he grew up rooting for has energized him. Whatever the reason — keep up the great work.

Nico Hoerner followed Tauchman’s homer with a triple. Then this happened [VIDEO].

Hoerner was called out, but as you can see, he slid around Austin Hedges’ tag.

Mark Leiter Jr. threw a scoreless, 1-2-3 eighth and Adbert Alzolay was summoned to finish things off, even though that last run took the game out of a save situation. Alzolay dispatched the Bucs 1-2-3 also, on just nine pitches. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].

As you can see on the graphic on that clip, the Cubs have now held the Pirates scoreless for 24 consecutive innings and have won all five games they’ve played against them so far this year, outscoring them 40-11. Over the last 11 Cubs games, nine of which are wins, the Cubs have outscored their opponents 66-37. Since they were swept out of Anaheim, this looks like a completely different ballclub — and, I should add, the ballclub I thought they could be when this season began.

The win moved the Cubs into third place in the N.L. Central, ahead of the Pirates. The Reds won their 10th in a row (!) Tuesday evening, so the Cubs remain 3½ games out of first place, though the Cubs also remain the only N.L. Central team with a positive run differential (+21). As noted above, the Cubs have won nine of 11 since they were swept in Anaheim. Meanwhile, the Pirates have lost 11 of their last 13 and eight straight.

Marcus Stroman dropped his ERA to 2.28 with this outstanding outing, which leads all N.L. pitchers and is third in MLB behind Shane McClanahan (2.12) and Framber Valdez (2.27). Stroman has to be the leading candidate to start the All-Star Game for the National League.

Get him extended, Jed.

The Cubs will go for a second straight series sweep over the Pirates Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh. This one, I’ll be able to watch, as it starts at 11:35 a.m. CT (5:35 p.m. London time). In fact, I am planning to head to a baseball-themed bar/restaurant to watch and I’ll let you all know how that goes. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Rich Hill will go for the Pirates. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories). Today’s BCB game preview will post at 10 a.m. CT.