There are times during a baseball season when, no matter how good your team is or how well they’ve played, they run into a good starting pitcher who just shuts them down.
That’s what happened Friday evening in Pittsburgh, when Pirates righthander Mitch Keller didn’t give the Cubs much of anything. Keller allowed just four hits and a walk over eight shutout innings, striking out six. He threw 93 pitches (64 strikes) and just two Cubs hitters got past first base off him: a double by Ian Happ in the fourth, and Seiya Suzuki, who singled with one out in the fifth, went to second when Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch with two out.
But that was it through eight for the Cubs, who lost 2-1, their first loss to the Pirates this year after seven wins. A tip o’ the BCB cap to Keller, who went past seven innings for just the second time this year in 27 starts.
There were some good things in this game for the Cubs, so let’s rewind to the beginning.
Kyle Hendricks looked like he didn’t have command early, and the Pirates hit him hard in the first inning, scoring a pair of runs on a single, double and pair of ground outs.
But then Kyle settled down and retired 15 of 17 Pirates until a pair of one-out singles in the sixth. Hendricks recorded the second out and then was replaced by Jose Cuas, who finished the inning without incident. Hendricks’ outing was a few too many pitches — 94, just one fewer than Keller despite throwing more than two fewer innings — but in general, a start like that is going to put your team in pretty good position most of the time.
Cuas also threw the seventh, and got in trouble with a single and walk, but ended the inning on a fly to right and a double play.
Drew Smyly, sent back to the bullpen after another rough start Tuesday in Detroit, threw a 1-2-3 eighth. Smyly, in his last four relief appearances, has faced 13 batters and retired 10 of them, allowing two hits (both singles) and a walk and striking out four in four total innings. The Cubs don’t have any other lefty relievers so... maybe this is a good niche for Smyly.
So the game went to the ninth still 2-0. The Pirates replaced Keller with closer David Bednar. Pittsburgh-area native Ian Happ led off the inning and presto! It’s 2-1 [VIDEO].
Happ had two of the Cubs’ five hits and in seven games vs. the Pirates this year is batting .364/.432/.758 (12-for-33) with three doubles, two triples and two home runs — and good news for Happ, the Cubs still have five games remaining against his hometown team.
Cody Bellinger was the next hitter. This is what happened [VIDEO].
That’s really, really close. The call on the field was “safe” and honestly, I don’t see how there was enough evidence to overturn that. To me, it looked like it should have been “call stands”... but the review crew did overturn the call and Bellinger was out.
So instead of having the tying run on base with nobody out, there’s no one on and one out, a significant difference when you’re in the ninth inning. Dansby Swanson grounded out and Suzuki struck out on a high fastball to end the game [VIDEO].
All the Cubs can do is pick up and try to win Saturday’s game. Credit to Keller, and also credit to Bednar, who is one of the league’s better closers.
The Brewers defeated the Padres Friday, so the Cubs drop to four games out of first place. They remain in second place in the N.L. Central, because the Reds lost to the Diamondbacks late Friday. However, that result jumped Arizona ahead of the Cubs into the second wild-card spot. The D-Backs are half a game ahead of the Cubs. The Cubs retain the third wild-card spot, a game ahead of the Giants and Marlins, because both of those teams lost.
None of this is the end of the world and the Cubs still do have the chance to take three of four from the Pirates. Javier Assad, who’s been very good lately, will start Saturday’s game for the Cubs. The Pirates are going to go with an opener, Colin Selby, a rookie who will be making his eighth MLB appearance. Here’s what could happen after that:
Colin Selby will start for the Pirates tomorrow. I imagine Osvaldo Bido will be the bulk guy.— Justice delos Santos (@justdelossantos) August 26, 2023
Osvaldo Bido is also a rookie, and the Cubs faced him in his first two MLB starts back in June, scoring four runs off him in 10 total innings.
Saturday’s game is on Fox-TV (regional — coverage map) and game time is 6:15 p.m. CT.