PITTSBURGH -- Realistically, the Cubs have little left to play for this week. With a 100-win season and the best record in the Majors secured, their sights are now set on the month to come. But still, the Cubs continued their roll into October on Tuesday night at PNC Park,
PITTSBURGH -- Realistically, the Cubs have little left to play for this week. With a 100-win season and the best record in the Majors secured, their sights are now set on the month to come. But still, the Cubs continued their roll into October on Tuesday night at PNC Park, beating the Pirates, 6-4, for their third straight win.
The Pirates' fourth straight loss put them on the brink of mathematical elimination from the National League Wild Card race, dropping their elimination number to one, and the Giants finished the job late Tuesday night at AT&T Park, as their 12-3 win over the Rockies officially put Pittsburgh out of the running.
Chris Coghlan ripped a three-run triple to the center-field wall in the second inning off Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong. The veteran right-hander struggled with his command throughout the five-inning outing, throwing 51 of his 101 pitches for strikes and walking five, but he limited the damage to four runs on four hits while striking out five.
"Just an unacceptable start, really," Vogelsong said. "There's no excuse."
Dexter Fowler tacked on another run in the fourth with an RBI double to right field, and the Cubs padded their lead with two more runs in the ninth, both of them after Pirates left fielder Gregory Polanco dropped what would have been the third out.
Cubs right-hander John Lackey, making his last start of the regular season, held the Bucs to one run on five hits and three walks while striking out three in five innings. Cubs manager Joe Maddon then deployed his bullpen strategically over the final four innings, part of the club's postseason dress rehearsal, to finish the Cubs' 14th win in 17 matchups with the Pirates. The Bucs rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases and cashing in with singles by Polanco and Andrew McCutchen.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Strong bench: The Cubs took advantage of Vogelsong's control issues in the second and loaded the bases when Javier Báez was hit by a pitch and Munenori Kawasaki and Fowler both walked. Coghlan then cleared them with a triple to right-center. Coghlan, trying to secure a spot on the postseason roster as a reserve, also singled in the first, and is 4-for-8 in two games on this road trip so far.
Spring Training Part II: Lackey wrapped up the regular season by throwing 93 pitches over five innings in his 29th start. He finished the season with 180 strikeouts over 188 1/3 innings. When he was pulled, so were starters Anthony Rizzo and Fowler. It's part of Maddon's plan to use the final week like Spring Training to get players at-bats but also rest. Although the Cubs haven't announced the rotation for the NL Division Series, which starts Oct. 7, Lackey will likely be the fourth starter.
"It's probably one of the better ones of my career," Lackey said of his season. "If you look at things besides wins and losses, and some of the smaller numbers, it's probably the best I've ever done." More >
Double trouble: The Pirates didn't have many chances to score, and they hit their way out of three prime opportunities. The first double play scored their only run, as Francisco Cervelli bounced into a 6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners and nobody out in the second inning to wipe the bases clean. The second one proved to be more costly. Jordy Mercer came to the plate in the fourth with one out, the bases loaded and the Pirates trailing by three runs. Mercer hit the ball hard -- but right at second baseman Kawasaki, who fired the ball to shortstop Baez to double off Sean Rodríguez at second.
"That's right where I want to be, hitting the ball to right-center," Mercer said. "Once you hit it, you wish you could control the ball, where it's going. There's nothing you can do about it. Continue to stay with that approach and continue to hit balls like that. Eventually, they're going to find a gap and score a bunch of runs."
With the score still 4-1, two on and nobody out in the eighth, Matt Joyce bounced into a 1-6-3 double play. Carl Edwards Jr. then struck out Rodriguez, stranding McCutchen at third base.
Marte's back: Pirates outfielder Starling Marte returned to the field for the first time since Thursday, grounding out as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. Aside from a plate appearance Wednesday and another before exiting Thursday's game early, Marte has been sidelined by lower back tightness since Sept. 6. Marte said the tightness in his back "comes and goes" and occasionally veers into pain, but he hopes to be able to play a full game Wednesday, if his body allows it.
"At this moment, I can't really say exactly what time I think things will get better," Marte said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "So far, things are moving quickly, and I'm feeling a lot better than I was feeling before. … Hopefully, I'll get back and be able to bounce back as soon as possible."
"Good players. They just came together at the right time. I think it's just the sign of a good team, honestly. When they have good pitching and timely hitting and they're putting guys on base, it's hard to beat a club like that."-- Mercer, on the Cubs' success against the Pirates
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio saw an impressive streak come to an end, as he did not strike out a batter in his appearance Tuesday night. Nicasio had recorded at least one strikeout in 33 straight outings, a single-season club record for a Pirates reliever and the longest such streak in the Majors since Aroldis Chapman whiffed at least one batter in 37 straight games two years ago.
Cubs:Jake Arrieta likes pitching at PNC Park, and he will make his final regular-season start on Wednesday. He's 9-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 14 career starts against the Pirates. On the road, he's 11-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 14 games. First pitch will be at 6:05 p.m. CT.
Pirates: Right-hander Jameson Taillon will make the final start of a strong rookie season on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Taillon is set to surpass the 100-inning mark in the Majors in his 18th start. He has been charged with three earned runs or fewer in 14 of his 17 starts, but he has only pitched five innings in each of his past three outings.
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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.