Bellinger powers Cubs in win over Pirates
David Dermer - USA Today Sports

Bellinger powers Cubs in win over Pirates

by - Senior Writer -

PITTSBURGH — Given how good the Chicago Cubs' (23-16) starting pitching has been for so long, you knew at some point things were going to trend in the opposite direction, as there is no way they can pitch at this level all season. When that happens, it will be up to the offense to pick up the slack, but this is a lineup that hasn't been at full strength since April 15, and with Dansby Swanson now on the IL, it will be longer.

They did get Seiya Suzuki back ahead of their game with the Pittsburgh Pirates (17-22) at PNC Park, but he was out of the lineup on Friday and is expected to return on Saturday. In desperate need of an offensive jolt at some point, when you look at the upcoming pitching matchups for the Cubs, things don't look good in terms of having that breakout game.

That is why they play the game, as the Cubs put together one of their better all-around performances in quite a while and downed the Pirates 7-2. Heading into this series, the Cubs knew they would face two of the best young arms in the game, and that all started with Jared Jones. The hard-throwing right-hander has looked great since his season debut, but this wasn't one of his better outings as he allowed three runs in six innings, with only two being earned.

While the overall results were strong enough, having two walks and only four strikeouts stands out, as the Cubs put the ball in play against him. That is something that Javier Assad does well as a pitcher, as he is no stranger to putting guys on base, but he does a great job keeping them there.

Typically, you want to limit the contact as much as possible and this was one of those nights as Assad struggled right from the jump with his command. Eventually, he would settle in, but he still only managed to get through 4 1/3 innings, allowing two runs with one being earned. A big reason for Assad's success dating back to last season has been playing with the lead, which was again the case here as Cody Bellinger turned on a 100 MPH heater and launched it into the right field bleachers to give the Cubs an early 1-0 lead.

Since returning from the IL, Bellinger has been on a tear as he collected four hits in this one. Not to be outdone by the Cubs fast start, the Pirates responded in the bottom half of the first and put together a very good inning of their own. A leadoff error from Christopher Morel didn't help, but with Assad walking two straight after retiring Bryan Reynolds, it was the Pirates threatening as they had the bases loaded and one out.

On the verge of getting out of the inning with one pitch, Nick Gonzalez made sure that wasn't the case as he took one up the middle for an RBI single to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. Not only was that their only lead, but those were the only runs they would score as Assad and Ben Brown dominated the rest of the way.

After stranding a pair of runners in the third inning, the Cubs offense got right back to work in the fourth as Morel and Ian Happ led things off with a pair of singles, but once again, the Cubs were unable to cash in. It's almost impossible to believe that this team is as bad as they are when it comes to driving guys in on base, and with Nico Hoerner picking up a one-out single in the fifth, he, too, was on the verge of being stranded.

That was until Bellinger took it upon himself to rip one into the right-field corner as Hoerner was off to the races. After Reynolds threw the ball to Oneil Cruz, Cruz threw a perfect strike to Yasmani Grandel at home to gun Hoerner down by at least 10 feet. Fortunately for the Cubs, Hoerner was able to knock the ball loose as they tied things up 2-2.

It was that play when you started to see the momentum shift as Brown looked as good as he has all season.

The young right-hander came in for Assad to record the final two outs in the fifth and then tossed three more scoreless innings. He finished with six strikeouts and earned his first career win. That was because the Cubs offense got to Jones again with Morel driving in Busch for the game-winning run before the Cubs offense went to work late against the Pirates pen.

With Hunter Stratton on the mound for the Pirates, it was the Cubs who put the pressure on immediately as a one-out walk from Mike Tauchman got things rolling before a pair of singles from Bellinger and Morel brought home another run with the Cubs now in front 4-2. Ian Happ kept the line moving with his first extra-base hit in nearly a month to make things 5-2, with Nick Madrigal closing out the four-run seventh with a two-run single as the Cubs broke the game open 7-2.

The Cubs had a chance to add on in the eighth with runners on second and third, but couldn't get the hit they needed as it was up to Adbert Alzolay to finish things. Once again, Alzolay had his moments of struggle with Grandal leading off with a double. However, Alzolay did recover nicely to strike out two and retired the next three hitters to secure the 7-2 win.

Next up for the Cubs will be left-hander Justin Steele, who will face the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball, Paul Skenes, who is making his MLB debut.

Bellinger paced the Cubs' offense with four hits, with Morel and Happ adding two. Every starter in the lineup had at least one hit for the Cubs, as this was a much-needed game for their offense.

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