In the Cubs’ 5-0 win at Pittsburgh on Monday, a familiar pattern played out.
“Our pitching group has done a great job this year,” Cubs manager David Ross said before the game. “They’ve carried us, for me – they carried us early, they carried us here on the back end as we’ve played well. Pitching and defense has been kind of our thing this year, since our offense hasn’t gotten going.”
That Cubs offense started to really flow in the eighth inning, as it rallied for three insurance runs against the Pittsburgh bullpen. But the Cubs pitching set the tone for most of the game.
The Cubs improved to 32-22, still atop the NL Central with just six games left in the regular season.
Here are takeaways from the win:
Lester in postseason form
Cubs starter Jon Lester pitched six shutout innings on Monday, his second scoreless outing in three starts.
The left-hander has the playoff resume; the only thing that called into question whether or not Lester would claim the No. 3 slot in the Cubs postseason rotation was a rough mid-season stretch.
But since allowing five runs in back-to-back starts at the beginning of the month, Lester has a 1.05 ERA in his last three outings.
On Monday, Lester allowed just four hits to the last-place Pirates, walked one and struck out one.
The slumping Cubs offense met Pirates rookie pitcher JT Brubaker after arguably the best start of his career, at Cincinnati last week.
On Monday, he may have topped that. Brubaker allowed just two runs on four hits and recorded a season-high nine strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. Before Monday, he’d never thrown more than 5 1/3 innings in a game.
Sometimes a bunt is just as good as a swing.
Kyle Schwarber led off the second inning with a double, and Jason Heyward moved him to third base with a groundout.
Javier Báez stepped up to the plate with two outs. He read the Pirates defense, which had its first and third baseman playing back. So, Báez dropped a bunt single to the third base side, driving in the first run of the game.
Entering play Monday, no Cubs batter was hitting above .300. In a slump, sometimes a bunt is better than a swing.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant left the game after his second-inning at-bat, with a right oblique tightness. David Bote replaced him in the field the next inning.
Cubs right-hander José Quintana is scheduled to make his first start of the season on Tuesday, returning from the injured list (left lat inflammation). For the Pirates, left-hander Steven Brault is scheduled to start the second game of a four-game series.