Cubs can't solve Keller in frustrating loss to Pirates
Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

Cubs can't solve Keller in frustrating loss to Pirates


by - Senior Writer -

PITTSBURGH - Sometimes, you have to tip your cap for a job well done. Despite the Pittsburgh Pirates 58-71 coming back to earth since the middle of June, they do have some talented players, including their All-Star and Ace Mitch Keller. A late bloomer when it comes to his success on the mound, the Chicago Cubs (67-61) found out firsthand how tough Keller can be as he silenced the Cubs offense on Friday.

Facing off against Kyle Hendricks, who turned in an excellent outing of his own, it was Keller who managed to twirl a gem as he gave the Pirates eight shutout innings to outduel Hendricks and the Cubs 2-1. For the Cubs, it was their 10th consecutive game decided by two runs or less, the longest streak since 1991. It is also tied for the second-longest streak of that nature this season, only behind the Phillies, who had 11 straight games decided by two runs or less.

Keller had the Cubs guessing all night as he scattered just four hits in his eight innings with six strikeouts to once again show why he is the ace of their staff. When it comes to Hendricks, you can't blame him for this one, as this was a classic case of no-run support. Hendricks gave the Cubs 5 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs and striking out four. Unfortunately, the two runs he allowed were too much, and the offense never got going the way the Cubs had hoped.

The worst part about Hendricks and his outing was having both runs came in one inning, with that being the first. Sometimes, it takes a pitcher a little while to settle in, which was the case for Hendricks. Ke'Bryan Hayes started things off with a single before the Bryan Reynolds double put runners on second and third with no outs. Those hits were followed by a pair of RBI groundouts from Andrew McCutchen, and Josh Palacios brought both of those runs in to give the Pirates an early 2-0 lead.

Little did they know, those would be the only runs they would need in the game as Keller delivered one of his best starts of the season. Not only did Keller retire the side in order in the first, but he also retired the first 11 of the game as the Cubs searched for answers. That was until an Ian Happ double with two outs in the fourth set the Cubs offense up, only to come away empty.

It was the exact opposite type of start for Hendricks as he surrendered a pair of runs in the first and then turned around to allow multiple base runners in the second, only to be bailed out by a double play. That was the wake-up call Hendricks needed as he allowed minimal baserunners the rest of the way to keep the Cubs close.

Despite the Cub's offense not doing anything through four innings, it appeared they were figuring something out in the fifth, with the red-hot Seiya Suzuki picking up a one-out single. Two batters later saw Yan Gomes get hit by a pitch to put a pair of runners on, only to be turned away again. That was about as much danger that Keller had all night as he allowed just two baserunners the rest of the night.

With Hendricks settling into a groove and starting to match Keller pitch for pitch, you could sense the Pirates wanted more offensively than just two runs. Having Connor Joe and Jack Suwinski pick up a pair of one-out singles in the sixth was a start in the right direction to add on, but it was Hendricks and Jose Cuas that prevented that from happening.

Cuas returned for the seventh to toss another scoreless frame before handing things off to Drew Smyly in the eighth. Before the game, it was revealed that Smyly would be done in the rotation and return to the bullpen the rest of the way. Tossing a scoreless eighth was a good start, as he seems more comfortable in that role this season.

Still trailing by two and down to their final three outs, the Cubs had their work cut out for them as they faced David Bednar in the ninth. Bednar took the loss on Thursday after going two innings and appeared vulnerable again, with Happ coming through with a leadoff homer to make things 2-1. Cody Bellinger followed that up with what looked to be an infield single, only to have the play overturned upon further review.

That was the shot in the arm Bednar needed as he finished off the Cubs for his 28th save and locked down a hard-fought 2-1 win.

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