Cubs Get in Pirates’ Heads, Take Series Opener

The Bucs had Gerrit Cole but the Cubs have a carat goal.

Heading into the game, much was made of the budding rivalry between these two teams and the competitive friction that comes along with it. The Cubs were loose as they made some waves with a zany suit road trip theme, but the Pirates were all business as they looked to get revenge for last year’s Wild Card loss. Maybe that’s why one team seemed manic Monday while the other was easy like Sunday morning.

It makes sense that a team bearing the name of seafaring criminals would be a little salty, and that’s exactly how the Pirates came across throughout the course of the game. Nowhere was that more clear than when Kyle Lobstein plunked Ben Zobrist to lead off the 7th inning. There are times when a breaking pitch simply gets away from a guy and strays from its intended target, but this did not appear to be one of those times. The pitch was a sinker that seemed to have a bead on the batter’s fanny, and it came suspiciously soon after Jason Hammel had hit Starling Marte to lead off the bottom of the 6th.

Zobrist would eventually advance to third on a Javy Baez single and then came home to score when Lobstein spiked a wild pitch. The logic of intentionally hitting a batter in a situation like that escapes me, though I guess unwritten rules is unwritten rules. Still, despite all the deep-seated machismo and neanderthal tendencies, baseball can quite poetic. And by taking a beanball off the tookus, Zobrist provided a human allegory for the Pirates’ butt-hurt.

It’s easy to understand how opponents might be frustrated by a team that deploy an athlete like Baez all over the field without risking a drop-off. This guy is Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez bit with more power, and he might be the Cubs’ best overall baseball player. I know I’m treading on dangerous semantic ground here and that some will bristle at the notion of putting “best” in front of anyone not named Arrieta, Bryant, or Rizzo, but Baez can do a little of everything and he can do it all well.

To have that kind of talent in a utility player is just…woah. Baez went 2-for-2 and played some great defense — that tag(!)— at second to help keep the Pirates at bay. The Pirates have quite a group of talented young players too, though the man on the mound didn’t necessarily look the part Monday night.

Whether he was pressing or just having an off night, Cole didn’t look like himself as he nibbled around the corners far too much. To the untrained eye it appeared as though he was either unsure of his stuff or afraid of the Cubs hitters. Or both. Whatever the reason, he handed out 4 walks and gave up 6 runs (5 earned) while throwing 105 pitches over only 4 2/3 innings. In a game in which the Pirates presumably had the upper hand.

Now the Cubs send Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester to the bump for the next two games in Pittsburgh. The season won’t be won or lost at this point, but Joe Maddon’s team is trying to build a mental wall Clint and Co. can’t hurdle. Oh, it wouldn’t hurt to build a little cushion in the standings too.

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