It was supposed to be a championship kind of night at PNC Park for the Chicago Cubs. They’ve won eight of nine against the Pirates this season, Jake Arrieta is on the mound, and Doc Emrick called the game. All signs pointed to the Cubs turning their slump around.
Then Arrieta (12-4, 2.68 ERA) gave up six runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings, including two home runs in the second inning. Two things became emphatically clear: Arrieta’s slider is gone, and the Cubs are dead-tired.
“The whole staff feels like [we need to pick it up},” Arrieta told reporters after the game. “We’ve been in a lull the past couple weeks.”
In a report by ESPN, Arrieta is generating less spin on his slider, causing him to have lower swing and miss rate, chase rate, and movement. In 2015, batters hit .184 against his slider. This season, they’re hitting .200, with most of the damage coming since Arrieta’s last loss at the end of May.
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Pittsburgh’s Sean Rodriguez hit a two-run shot off of a slider that caught too much plate in the third, following teammate David Freese’s solo dinger over the Clemente wall. Pittsburgh is the last team to hit two or more home runs off of Arrieta in an inning, doing so in 2013.
The Cubs’ pitching staff as a whole has struggled with pitch command as of late. In the club’s first 67 games, the Cubs gave up 30 home runs. In their past 19, they’ve given up 26.
With two on, Anthony Rizzo committed a throwing error on a slow-rolling grounder with Wood covering first, allowing Pittsburgh to take the lead at 5-4. Carl Edwards Jr. came in shortly after, giving up RBI knocks to Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. The Pirates (45-42) added their final run in the eighth on a wild pitch by Trevor Cahill and the game ended at 8-4.
After starting out at a blistering 25-6 pace, the Cubs (52-34) are in the midst of a 27-27 stretch, including losing 14 of their last 19.
It’s safe to say that this team won’t be crowned before the All-Star break, but there are still positives to note.
The Pirates elected to use their star closer Mark Melancon to record the final out, though manager Clint Hurdle wanted to give him the day off. That shows the level of respect the rest of the league still holds for this team.
The Cubs offense is still capable of keeping them alive in games where their pitching staff doesn’t have a stellar outing. Miguel Montero tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth on a two-out blast to right and Anthony Rizzo hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh.
Montero told reporters, “in the beginning, everything was pretty. Now, everything is ugly. That’s baseball. You get your ups and downs.”