It's way too early to break the glass and sound the alarm, but after once again going down without much of a fight to the Cubs, the Pirates find themselves eight games behind their division rivals heading into a seemingly lopsided pitching matchup tomorrow afternoon. With their odds of winning division now at a minuscule 1.5 percent according to Fangraphs, the Pirates suddenly face an uncomfortably steep deficit to a team that has shown very little in the way of vulnerabilities.
While the team's predicament is starting to look bad on paper, Andrew McCutchen, who can be always counted on to provide compelling quotes in the face of adversity, isn't too worried.
"They've just been able to put runs up on the board and have really good games against us," McCutchen said. "All you can say is, ‘Oh well' and move on. It's not going to mess my night up."
The Cubs have outscored the Pirates 29-9 in four games this season and increased their total run differential to +104.
"Seems like they are giving a lot of teams trouble, not just us," McCutchen said.
Three homers and that was that
Most of the Cubs' damage came from three home runs spread out over the fourth and fifth innings. Addison Russell initiated the assault with a three-run homer on a 3-2 slider from Francisco Liriano. With the Wrigley Field crowd suddenly distracted by the game, Russell rewarded their attention by (very!) slowly wandering around the bases.
Kris Bryant made it 5-0 with a two-run homer in the fifth, and later in the inning David Ross put the game out of reach with the Cubs second three-run home run.
"His control wasn't as sharp and his pitches were elevated in the fourth and the fifth," Clint Hurdle said. "First three innings couldn't have been anymore clean or crisp. It was just lack of execution in the fourth and fifth."
From the start, it was a dangerous afternoon for pitchers, as the wind was blowing out and appeared to help one or two of today's homers reach the bleachers.
"[They] hit a couple balls on the barrel of the bat and they go out because it is Wrigley Field and it's windy," McCutchen said. "I mean, I don't think one ball would have gone out today if we were in PNC Park."
On a day that keeping the ball on the ground was at a premium, Liriano posted a 20 percent ground ball rate, while Hammel uncharacteristically induced grounders at a 70 percent clip.
In what figured to be the best pitching matchup of the weekend for the Pirates, Liriano was torched for eight runs, on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out seven.
"I made a lot of mistakes, fell behind in the count and walked too many guys," Liriano said. "It's just one of those days where I didn't execute my pitches."
Hammel extends Cubs starters pitching streak
While the Cubs' offense was breaking out, Jason Hammel disposed of Pirates' hitters with little trouble. He put together a solid 6 2/3 innings and, in the process, extended the Cubs' streak of starters getting through five innings pitched to a franchise record 42 straight games.
"I guess he was locating pretty well," McCutchen said. "That's what the game is all about: hitting mistakes. And he didn't make many today."