The Cubs entered Wednesday night looking to sweep the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Playing fundamental baseball this series has been key, as the pitching staff has gone 19 straight innings entering tonight without issuing a walk while the defense has been error free to open the series.
Kyle Hendricks started for the Cubs, who has continued his unassuming brilliance for the past six weeks. Entering tonight Kyle had a sterling 2.96 ERA since April 12, to go along with the second best WHIP (. 91) in the league during that span. His career ERA of 2.96 ranks third among active starters with at least 100 starts.
Hendricks was effective tonight, although he flirted with disaster throughout the evening. A leadoff home run by Josh Harrison quickly tied the game at one-a-piece, and from there the Pirates succeeded in getting the leadoff hitter on in each of the first five innings. Hendricks was saved by a missile of a throw by Jason Heyward to gun down Corey Dickerson at the plate in the fourth inning, and again in the fifth when Javy Baez made a diving stop on a hard grounder to end a bases loaded threat to end the fifth.
While far from dominant, Hendricks competed in this one, finishing with a stat line of 5 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, allowing the Cubs a shot at the sweep.
Offensively the Cubs squandered opportunities throughout the evening. Having already netted a run in the first they failed to score with the bases loaded, as Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell struck out to end the inning. Russell’s struggles continued in the fourth as he got picked off at second with nobody out, and followed it up by airmailing a double play ball in the bottom of the fourth. It was a tough night for the shortstop.
On the other side Joe Musgrove had an impressive outing in his second start for the Pirates, scattering seven hits in seven innings of work while limiting the Cubs to just one run. He was particularly impressive in big spots, highlighted by escaping the first inning by surrendering just one run, and inducing a pop up out of Anthony Rizzo with a runner on to end the seventh.
Losing this game 2-1 when they put up nine hits, stings, particularly with the chance at a huge inning to open the evening. The good news is that the Cubs won the series, and should have solid momentum heading into the weekend.
One final note. Drama unfolded in the bottom of the third as Musgrove slid through the bag at second to break up a double play, coming off the bag and making contact with Javier Baez. After he was called out words were exchanged, and the benches quickly cleared. Baez and Musgrove quickly made up, thankfully, and although by rule it should’ve been ruled a double play (as Musgrove did not maintain contact with second base) the umpires deemed the play couldn’t be reviewed before pre-emptively issuing warnings to both dugouts about bean balls. See the circus below:
Oh look… ANOTHER slide controversy in Pittsburgh. And this time the benches cleared!
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) May 31, 2018
This play was frustrating for several reasons, further highlighting MLB’s need to create slide rules that are easy to interpret and enforce with consistency. While you won’t often see two plays in one series that challenge the integrity of baseball’s rules, that it happened this week in Pittsburgh should urge the league to make thoughtful and effective decisions this offseason with regard to what constitutes a legal “slide.”
Up next for the Cubs
The Cubs travel to New York for a four game set against the Mets this weekend. Jose Quintana will open the series against Seth Lugo, a 6:10 CST start time on NBC Sports Chicago, and on the radio at 670 The Score.
Follow Austin Bloomberg on Twitter — Feature Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Pirates via Twitter