Major League Baseball

Pirates playing spoiler as Cubs struggle on road

mlb2CUBS (64-58) AT PIRATES (51-70)
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A collapse since the All-Star break has given the Pittsburgh Pirates (+1.5) a new role: spoiler.

It’s about all that is left for the last-place club in the National League Central, and the Pirates played the role smartly Friday in the opener of a series against the Chicago Cubs (-1.5) at PNC Park, scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win.

The Cubs dropped their fourth straight game and fell out of a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals (-1.5) for first place in the division.

Even with any thoughts of a playoff spot wiped away by a 7-25 showing since the All-Star break, Pittsburgh is enjoying ruining other teams’ hopes when it can.

“It’s awesome,” Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman, who hit a two-out, full-count, walk-off single Friday, told AT&T Sportsnet. “We’re still coming out every day, fighting for each other, just trying to get wins.”

Chicago fell to 23-39 on the road after two straight walk-off losses — Thursday it was Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper with a grand slam.

“We can’t keep having this conversation over and over — we keep on playing well at home, having that conversation, then going on the road and giving up whatever lead we have and get knocked back down,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “If we continue that cycle, we’re going to end up disappointed.”

Chicago plays out this series — Saturday at PNC Park, then Sunday in Williamsport, Pa., in the Little League Classic — before it gets back to Wrigley Field.

“We’ve got to keep going,” third baseman Kris Bryant told the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Saturday in a matchup of left-handers, Chicago’s Jon Lester (9-8, 4.43 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh’s Steven Brault (3-1, 4.33 ERA).

Lester had a stellar seven-start stretch from mid-June to late July, with a 2.91 ERA, but since then he has a 10.93 ERA in three starts.

He labeled himself the “weakest link” of the Cubs’ rotation during that stretch, although manager Joe Maddon dismissed that description.

“That’s just Jon being himself,” Maddon said. “Part of it, I think, is he actually believes that, which is not true.

“I just have so much respect for him. Having had the privilege of managing him for the last several years, I’ve seen the bad moments and then I’ve seen the rebounds. So I expect the rebound.”

Lester did not get a decision his last start, giving up three runs in five innings Sunday in a 6-3 Cubs win at Cincinnati.

In 20 career starts against the Pirates, Lester is 10-6 with a 3.18 ERA. That includes going 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his past four starts at PNC Park.

Brault came off the injured list on Aug. 6 after missing a month due to a shoulder strain. He has since notched two no-decisions, allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers (+1.5) on Aug. 6 and four runs in 4 2/3 innings at St. Louis on Sunday.

Overall, he has given up 15 runs, 14 of them earned, over his past nine starts. Also used out of the bullpen at times, he is 2-0 with a 3.74 ERA in 11 starts.

Against the Cubs, Brault has no decisions and a 7.53 ERA in 12 career appearances, including three starts.

–Field Level Media

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