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Baez puts MVP case on display as Cubs fall

July 31, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Lester has seen enough of the Pirates.David Freese hit a pair of RBI doubles, including a tie-breaker in the fifth, and Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco each homered to lift the Pirates to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday night and even the season series

PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Lester has seen enough of the Pirates.
David Freese hit a pair of RBI doubles, including a tie-breaker in the fifth, and Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco each homered to lift the Pirates to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday night and even the season series at five wins apiece.
Javier Baez did everything he could, collecting three hits, including a three-run homer, his 22nd, but Lester took the loss, getting pulled after throwing 101 pitches over five innings. In four starts this season against the Pirates, he's 2-1 with a 4.70 ERA.
"It was just another day against these guys for me," Lester said. "It seems every time I throw against them, I'm not getting ahead. It was kind of a grinder. Hopefully, I get another shot."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he thought Lester's command was off. The All-Star lefty gave up runs in the third and fifth after getting the first two outs in the inning both times.
"I thought we played really well," Maddon said of the Cubs' overall play. "I have no issues with tonight's game. We got a little unlucky and they beat us. If we play that game every night, I'll take it the rest of the year. I thought we played that well, the at-bats were good, we played great defense. It's just one of those nights."

Before the game, the Pirates restocked their roster with pitchers Chris Archer and Keone Kela, while the Cubs added their third new pitcher this month, reliever Brandon Kintzler, in a trade with the Nationals. Kintzler was expected at PNC Park on Wednesday.
"Obviously, we're missing some pieces right now on both the pitching side and hitting side," Lester said of Kristopher Bryant, Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish, who are all on the disabled list. "Hopefully, we can get some of those pieces back shortly. I think when we do that, it's another shot in the arm for us. Adding the three guys and you've got [Cole] Hamels going [on Wednesday] -- I'm really excited for that."
Lester and Hamels have been compared to each other most of their careers. Hamels, who was acquired on Friday from the Rangers, said he watched videos of Lester against certain teams to help him prepare. Hamels will make his Cubs debut on Wednesday.
"I think when you make trades, it can be a boost, and when you get guys back, it can be a boost," Lester said. "We're missing a guy like [Bryant] in the middle of our order. [David] Bote has done a great job filling that role, but when you have the Rookie [of the Year] and the MVP out of your lineup [in Bryant], it makes it a little harder."
Back to the game. Lester retired the first two batters in the Pirates' third, then gave up three straight hits, including an RBI double by Freese and a two-run homer by Cervelli.

But Baez tied it at 3 with one swing, launching a curve from Jameson Taillon 401 feet into the seats just fair in left field. Baez now has 82 RBIs, most in the National League, and is one homer shy of matching his career high of 23 set last season.
"He's a bit of a free swinger," Taillon said of Baez. "He's a great hitter, but he's a free swinger. If I could go back, I'd bounce that curveball until I walk him or strike him out. I didn't. That's life. I just rebounded, realized there was a lot of game left and got us deep."
The Cubs do need to get their rotation right. They now have lost seven of their last 12 games, and in that stretch, the starting pitchers have a 6.41 ERA, giving up 43 earned runs over 60 1/3 innings.
Despite the loss, the Cubs finished July with a 15-10 record, giving them a winning record every month this season.
Addison Russell added an RBI double in the Chicago ninth and tried to stretch his hit. He was called safe despite a 9-4-5 relay by the Pirates. After a crew chief review, the call was overturned and Russell was credited with an RBI double.

"I'd like to see the definitive replay on that last play, because I didn't see it," Maddon said. "For me, the call on the field has integrity, and I really need to see why that was changed. I looked at the video, and there had to be assumptions made and part of replay is to not assume. That's my only gripe tonight -- I didn't get that one.
"He actually was safe," Maddon said. "I guess he theoretically came off the bag. I didn't see it. But he was safe, then he's called out. We've benefitted from that also. I still didn't see the reason why."
Glove work: With two outs in the Pirates' fifth, Lester walked Polanco and he scored on Freese's second run-scoring double of the game. Freese tried to tally following a Cervelli single, but left fielder Ian Happ threw a perfect strike home to get Freese.

"I feel they've put it together for the last month. They've been playing really good baseball. I think that's what makes our division fun and unique. Even in Cincinnati, you roll into there and as a pitcher on the other side, you better be ready. Those guys can put runs up in a hurry. I think [the Pirates] are definitely not out of it. I think we've seen in the past that they get on the streaky side and you hope to catch them when they're not streaking in a positive way. Their offense gets rolling, and they've got a good group over there." -- Lester, on the Pirates
Cole Hamels will make his Cubs debut on Wednesday. The lefty, acquired from the Rangers, last pitched on July 23. He's 3-3 against the Pirates in 10 career starts, and 1-1 with a 1.22 ERA in five career starts at PNC Park. Hamels has done better on the road this season, posting a 4-2 record and 2.93 ERA. The Pirates will counter with Nick Kingham. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT from PNC Park.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.