The Cubs dominated the Pirates in every which way over the last three days. For a series that was supposed to have a little extra juice, it was a complete dud. The energy in the park was so low Jeb Bush would have felt right at home. This three-game sweep may not mean much come July but, for the moment, the Cubs look every bit an immovable object atop the NL Central.
For the third game in a row, the Pirates' offense offered up less resistance than the #NeverTrump movement, and the Cubs' offense plowed forward with another six runs on 12 hits. For the series, the damage reads:
Cubs 20 runs, 34 hits, 1 error
Pirates 5 runs, 21 hits, 3 errors.
"We got out-executed across the board the last three days," Clint Hurdle said.
Commentary about the mood of a clubhouse should be always taken with a grain of salt, but the Pirates side was a decidedly quiet place after Wednesday's game. Momentarily breaking the silence was Starling Marte, who bounced onto his new fold-up scooter and sped out of the clubhouse, honking its horn as he departed. The jingle of the tooting and the sight of his happy-go-lucky smile cut through the pall of heavy silence so absurdly that it felt like a scene out of the movie Major League.
So, what, if anything, should we take away from these three Groundhog Days of disappointment?
As you can imagine, the manager and players downplayed the significance of being utterly overrun by the team they figure to chase all season.
"We'll hit the reset button," Hurdle said. "We flush it. A lot of people that don't play the game don't flush it."
Josh Harrison followed his manager's lead by talking about enjoying the off day and then looking forward to St. Louis.
"Unfortunately, we didn't play that well," Harrison said. "We'll just keep pushing. That's what we do. We're never going to let one game or one series affect what we do as a group."
Andrew McCutchen was slow to dress and mostly stared determinedly over the heads of the press members gathered around him.
"These past three [games], we had our opportunities, but didn't play our best baseball," McCutchen said. "We can all look at that and know that that's not the type of baseball we played prior to coming here."
While he wouldn't say that losing to the Cubs the way they did was more frustrating than usual, he was especially annoyed with the official scorer who charged him with an error on a difficult catch in the third.
"Whoever scored that an error should be fired," McCutchen said. "That's unbelievable. I'd like them to try catch that one."
It is a bad look to complain about the official scorer, of all things, after this series. More than anything, here's guessing that his comment reflects misdirected anger.
Nicasio takes nine innings time to pitch four innings
To say Juan Nicasio was inefficient is an insult to centrally planned economies. He labored, slowly, for 4 1/3 innings, over which he threw 102 painstaking pitches. According to Hurdle, Nicasio threw a remarkable 38 pitches in two-strike counts.
After so much was made about Nicasio's quicker pace after his last start, he was noticeably slower and more deliberate this afternoon.
"He's the one that controls the rhythm and pace that he works at," Hurdle said. "I guess that rhythm and upbeat tempo wasn't there today because we talked to him about it and [Francisco] Cervelli tried to talk to him about it and get him going. I don't know what to read into it."
Starting pitching was a problem in all three games of the series, as no Pirates starter made it past the fifth. Gerrit Cole, Johnathan Niese and Nicasio combined for only 14 innings pitched and allowed 23 hits and 16 runs.
"They were able to do to our starters what we've been doing to other starters," Hurdle said. "Stretching guys out, fouling balls off, making them work."
Cubs scary good start
If you haven't already, check out this piece by Rob Arthur on Fivethirtyeight.com. Arthur shows that the Cubs are arguably off to one of the best starts in baseball history. Here is the tweet that accompanied the article.
After you adjust for era, the @Cubs are off to maybe the best start in MLB's history. https://t.co/H94p5xOLFh pic.twitter.com/TiJU2nVdmf— Rob Arthur (@No_Little_Plans) May 4, 2016