Friday afternoon began a 20 games-in-20 days stretch to close the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates and it didn’t start in a good way as the Bucs dropped their seventh consecutive game, 7-4 to the Chicago Cubs.
There have been plenty of reasons why the Pirates (72-71) are now only 14-29 in their past 43 games, but one of them certainly has to be the performance of James McDonald, who turned in another rocky start, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks in only 3.2 innings. J-Mac walked the bases loaded in the fourth and all three runs came around to score, putting the Cubs up comfortably.
The Bucs pulled within 4-1 on a Pedro Alvarez RBI single in the fifth and scored twice in the sixth on a Gaby Sanchez single and an RBI groundout from Alvarez, but the Pirates bullpen gave it right back.
The once dominant Pirates bullpen has been a problem in this stretch as well as they are no longer coming in and getting big outs.
After Pirates manager Clint Hurdle yanked J-Mac, he turned to rookie Justin Wilson, who gave up a two-run double to Anthony Rizzo to make it a 3-0 game. It was a bit of a tough spot to put a rookie who has only two major league innings under his belt, but he still has to get a big out there.
Wilson wasn’t the only culprit as Hurdle then turned to Chris Leroux who gave up an RBI single to Alfonso Soriano to make it 4-0, essentially digging the Pirates another hole they couldn’t come back from.
After making it a one-run game, it was Jared Hughes’ turn, as the usually-steady rookie surrendered a three-run homer to Starlin Castro in the seventh to put the finishing touches on this one.
However the pitchers weren’t the only ones to blame as the Pirates lineup was once again stymied by a pitcher without even an average major-league pedigree.
Chicago starter Chris Rusin silenced the Bucs bats for a second consecutive start as Sanchez’s double in the fifth turned out to be the first Pirates hit in the game. They finished with eight hits on the day, including a homer by Andrew McCutchen in the seventh, but it was too little too late by then.
Notes: Bryan Morris made his MLB debut for the Bucs, tossing a perfect ninth…..Brock Holt saw his eight-game hit streak come to an end…..Neil Walker returned as a pinch-hitter and killed a Pirates rally, striking out with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth…..Garrett Jones and Sanchez had multi-hit games…..The Bucs were 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position and struck out eight times on the day….The Bucs are now only one game over .500 after being 18 games over at one point
Winning Pitcher: Chris Rusin (1-2)
Losing Pitcher: James McDonald (12-8)
Save: Carlos Marmol (20)
Plays of the Game: Walker striking out with the bases loaded in the sixth and Castro’s three-run homer in the sixth
Home Runs: McCutchen (27), Castro (13)
MVP: Castro- 2-for-4, HR, 4 RBI
LVP: McDonald – 3.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 BB
Up Next: Saturday, September 15 at 1:05 p.m. at Chicago Cubs
Probable Starters: Jeff Locke (0-1, 4.11 ERA) at Jason Berken (0-0, 18.00)