CHICAGO -- It hasn't been an easy start to the season for the Pirates. They've been delayed by unpleasant weather, frigid when they do take the field and beset by external criticism and doubt about their chances of contending. Still, Tuesday figured to be their biggest test yet.The Pirates' dynamic
CHICAGO -- It hasn't been an easy start to the season for the Pirates. They've been delayed by unpleasant weather, frigid when they do take the field and beset by external criticism and doubt about their chances of contending. Still, Tuesday figured to be their biggest test yet.
The Pirates' dynamic lineup showed no signs of slowing down against Tyler Chatwood and the Cubs' bullpen, not even in the 43-degree chill hanging over the crowd of 40,144 on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Francisco Cervelli and Starling Marte homered and Corey Dickerson picked up three of Pittsburgh's 12 hits as the Bucs blew past the reigning division champion Cubs, 8-5, on Tuesday afternoon.
With the win, the Pirates (8-2) are off to their best start since 1992.
"We've got a lot of hitters that are hard to get out," Dickerson said. "It's a very diverse lineup. It's really fun, because you never know what guy will be the guy that day. That's when it's fun, because nobody's got the pressure on them."
Nearly everyone contributed on Tuesday, but Dickerson and Cervelli drove the lineup from the Nos. 5 and 6 spots. Dickerson went 3-for-5 with a double, two runs and two RBIs, extending his hitting streak to six games. Cervelli, off to a sluggish start offensively, finished 3-for-4 with a three-run homer. Marte, Josh Bell and Jordy Mercer each drove in a run.
"We've got weapons," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've got players that can swing the bat all through the lineup. It's playing out."
Collectively, the Pirates have shown the ability to chase starters early in the game and get into opponents' bullpens. Jordan Zimmermann pitched six innings on Opening Day and Michael Fulmer worked eight in the second game of the season. Since then, no starting pitcher has lasted longer than five innings against Pittsburgh.
Chatwood needed 100 pitches to get through five innings on Tuesday, and while he struck out seven, the Bucs roughed him up for five runs on nine hits. They may not consistently outslug other teams, but as a group, the Pirates are determined to avoid easy outs.
"You have to see what kind of team you have and try to have a little identity," Cervelli said. "We don't try to do what another team does. Just go with your strengths. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it's working good."
Last season, the Pirates ran out one of the Majors' least productive lineups as they battled through key injuries, absences and severe slumps. This year, they rank among the league leaders in most offensive categories. They have scored 66 runs, their highest total through 10 games since 1923.
"Right now, I'm really impressed with their team on the field," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The team on the field, it's primarily a veteran group that's swinging the bats well. Look at their bench; they have some nice veterans in Sean Rodriguez and David Freese. They'll go as their pitching goes."
On Tuesday, the Pirates' starting pitcher went deep into the game again. Following Jameson Taillon's one-hit shutout on Sunday, Ivan Nova held the Cubs to three runs on seven hits while striking out six over seven innings.
The only significant damage against him was done by Javier Baez, who launched a pair of fastballs into the bleachers for two solo home runs. Otherwise, Nova cruised through seven innings on 102 pitches.
"They're coming home for the opener. Everybody's excited," Nova said. "Control your emotions, attack and make sure you get quick outs."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Move the chains: Down by a run in the third, the Pirates sent nine men to the plate and ran up Chatwood's pitch count during a go-ahead, three-run rally. Josh Harrison hit a leadoff single. Marte walked with one out. Bell delivered the game-tying hit, an opposite-field double. Dickerson then knocked a two-run double to center, the second of Pittsburgh's four straight hits off Chatwood. After a 10-pitch first inning, Chatwood needed 60 pitches to get through the second and third.
"Everybody battled, had a good approach and didn't give up," Dickerson said. "Everybody's eager. This is a young group. You just don't want to give away at-bats. The adjustments during the game are unbelievable, the way players communicate between each other. It's not a selfish team. Whenever somebody gets out, they're coming in talking instead of coming in throwing their helmet or getting upset. They're coming in talking and communicating, and we're feeding off that. We understand one another and what the pitcher's trying to do. We just try to feed off that."
New name, same Nightmare: After reliever Edgar Santana loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning, the Pirates called upon closer Felipe Vazquez, sporting his newly changed last name on the back of his No. 73 jersey. Vazquez gave up a two-run ground-ball single to Jason Heyward that cut Pittsburgh's lead to three runs, but he responded by striking out Baez to end the inning. He worked around a one-out walk in the ninth to complete his fourth save of the season.
"I guess I'm lucky. It's a cool experience, especially when you have one here. All the fans. All the chatter, a lot of things they say against you when you're warming up in the bullpen that you use in your favor. You get that energy that they think is negative to you, it's good. Use it in your favor and have a good game."
-- Nova, on spoiling the Cubs' home opener -- the second time this season he won in his opponent's first home game
"A pitch down the middle, that's it. I just closed my eyes and I hit it."
-- Cervelli, on his first home run of the season
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates have played three "Opening Day" games -- in Detroit on March 30, their home opener on April 2 and Tuesday's Wrigley Field opener -- and won all three. They are 5-0 in day games so far this season.
Marte's home run in the fourth inning off Chatwood had an exit velocity of 112 mph, the hardest-hit ball Statcast™ has tracked from Marte as well as the second-hardest-hit homer by a Pirate since the beginning of 2016. Cervelli's home run came off his bat at 108.4 mph, his hardest-hit homer and his second-hardest base hit of any kind tracked by Statcast™.
This was Nova's 11th career start of at least seven innings without allowing a walk. Six of those have come since joining the Pirates on Aug. 1, 2016.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Cubs had runners at first and second in the first inning when Kyle Schwarber beat the shift with a single to left. One run scored, and Willson Contreras was ruled safe after sliding into third base. The Pirates challenged the call, saying Contreras came off the bag. After a review, the ruling was overturned and the inning was over.
It was Dickerson's Major League-leading third outfield assist and the second that resulted from a replay review. On Opening Day, he threw out the Tigers' Nicholas Castellanos at home.
"I really take pride in my work during BP, trying to nail down my routes, get to the ball quicker, read the grass, stuff like that. But also look at the situation," Dickerson said. "Try to plan ahead. When I plan ahead, you don't feel rushed. … If you've planned ahead and do the little things right, it should be fine."
Left-hander Steven Brault will make his second start against Jonathan Lester and the Cubs on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field. Brault came out of the bullpen and put together a strong start against the Reds on Thursday, allowing one run over five innings. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET. The game will air live on MLB Network in the Pittsburgh market.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.