Pirates swept with another unsightly loss to Cubs
CHICAGO — This is when the 2017 season ended for the Pirates.
With a thud.
All the ingredients of a year gone wrong — porous defense, poor pitching, lackluster offense — turned up again Wednesday in a 17-3 nightmare against the Chicago Cubs.
Trailing the first-place Cubs by 10 games with all of September still to be played, the Pirates' tragic number in the NL Central is 21.
The Cubs (72-60) regained some of the gleam of a juggernaut as they methodically completed the series sweep and surged to a season-best 12 games over .500. The Pirates (63-71) were outscored 27-5 in the three-game set.
The Cubs collected 20 hits, their highest single-game total since 2014. The Pirates got 18 hits over the entire series.
After an off day Thursday, the Pirates will play three games against the Cincinnati Reds and four against the Cubs at PNC Park.
“Let's just say the off day is going to be a good thing,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “We need to clear our minds.”
With rosters allowed to expand Friday, where do the Pirates go from here?
“We've (planned) to play it a couple different ways, if we're in it or if we're on the outside looking in,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Monitor the moves going forward, and that will tell you which way we're headed.
“We've got a month of baseball left. We need to go at it the way we have. We've played hard all year. Our effort is there. The consistency to go on a long winning streak … hasn't been available to us.”
Ivan Nova's second-half swoon deepened. The right-hander lasted only three innings and yielded five runs (four earned) on five hits.
Over nine starts since the All-Star break, Nova (11-12) is 3-6 with a 6.38 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP.
Hurdle said Nova is not injured, then added “that we're aware of.” Nova also insisted he is “100 percent healthy.”
Even if Nova is physically sound, he appears to be worn down after making 27 starts, one shy of his career high.
“He's at a point where his body's tired, his arm is dragging a little bit so he can't get on top and get the ball down,” Stewart said. “His curveball's not as sharp. He's got to be that much more perfect. When he's not, he gets hit.”
After pitching help arrives from the minors Friday, Nova might be told to skip a start or two.
Left-hander Jose Quintana, the pitcher who got away from the Pirates last winter, showed them what might have been.
Quintana worked six innings, gave up three runs on four hits and struck out nine. He also lined an RBI single in the Cubs' seven-run fifth inning.
After he hit back-to-back batters with pitches, which put the Pirates up 2-0 in the first inning, Quintana retired 14 in a row. Josh Bell ended the run with a solo homer in the sixth.
It was Bell's 23rd home run, which tied him with Ralph Kiner (1946) and Johnny Rizzo (1938) for second-most by a Pirates rookie in a season.
During the offseason, the Pirates mulled but ultimately failed to swing a trade for Quintana. The 28-year-old native of Columbia has a solid four-pitch mix and is seasoned and durable. He also has three years of team control remaining on a bargain-rate ($26.5 million) contract.
The Cubs acquired Quintana from the Chicago White Sox on July 13 for four minor leaguers. The Pirates re-signed Nova to a three-year, $26 million deal in December but since have made no significant additions.
Both starters had a sloppy first inning. Quintana struck out the side but gave up two runs. Nova threw 32 pitches and allowed one a run.
Sean Rodriguez and Andrew McCutchen singled. With two outs, David Freese lined an RBI single to right field. After that, Quintana twice got within one strike of escaping the inning.
An 0-2 fastball nicked Starling Marte on the arm, which loaded the bases. An 0-2 curveball plunked Jordy Mercer on the back foot, which forced in a run.
The Cubs got a run in the first inning. They tied it 2-2 in the second without getting a hit. Javy Baez's grounder was booted by third baseman Freese. Baez stole second and went to third on Stewart's throwing error.
It was the second time in the series the Pirates made two errors in an inning. As Rene Rivera took a ball, Baez took a few halting steps toward the plate.
When Stewart threw to Freese, Baez revved it up and stole home.
Anthony Rizzo's RBI double and Ian Happ's two-run homer — the first of four bleacher shots by the Cubs in the game — made it 5-2 in the third.
That was it for Nova, who left after throwing only 69 pitches.
“There was no thought in continuing, based on what our eyes told us,” Hurdle said. “He was trying to create something out there that really wasn't happening tonight.”