One of the most taxed bullpens in baseball finally got a rest Friday.
Despite a major league-best 3.14 ERA, the Pirates (53-32) became the 22nd team in baseball to record a complete game with Liriano's four-hitter in a 6-2 victory. With Pittsburgh's starters averaging just over 5 1-3 innings per outing, the relievers have been left to pitch 305 innings, the second-highest total in baseball.
"These guys, the game has been over in the fifth inning when they have the lead," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told the team's official website. "Their bullpen has been that dominant. They've won every single game they've been leading. When you get those kind of pieces, it helps."
Sveum's compliment aside, Pittsburgh's bullpen finally displayed some weakness toward the tail end of its recent series against Philadelphia, as it posted a 6.43 ERA and a .345 batting average against over its last two games.
After watching Philadelphia snap its nine-game winning streak Tuesday, Pittsburgh has responded with two wins in three games, paced by an offense that has collected 35 hits.
Starling Marte has led the way, batting .373 during a 10-game hitting streak with nine of his 19 hits going for extra bases. He improved to 8 for 21 (.381) with five stolen bases in his last five games against the Cubs after going 3 for 6 with two steals Friday.
"I see a team that's fighting for every inch and earning every win," Saturday's scheduled starter Charlie Morton told the Pirates' official site. "I wouldn't classify it as luck. I wouldn't. Because that would be selling them short about what they've done so far."
Pittsburgh's bullpen may have needed the rest with Morton (1-1, 2.50 ERA) set to take the hill. The last time he pitched, a two hour and 20-minute rain delay forced him off the mound after two innings. While the right-hander could hardly be blamed for that abbreviated start, he has yet to make it through the sixth inning in four outings this season.
Since allowing a career-worst 10 runs to the Cubs (36-48) on Aug. 14, 2009, Morton is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in four starts against them. This will be his first appearance versus Chicago since Sept. 4, 2011.
He'll be facing a struggling Cubs offense that has scored five runs in the past three games and has six hits in the past two. Alfonso Soriano went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts Friday, and is 3 for his last 16. Anthony Rizzo is 2 for his last 20 and Darwin Barney is mired in a 3-for-25 skid.
This has been a dismal first season in Chicago for Edwin Jackson (4-10, 5.75), but he does have a chance to win consecutive starts. He allowed three runs over six-plus innings in a 7-6 victory at Seattle on Sunday after posting a 9.00 ERA in his previous two outings.
Jackson is 1-5 with a 6.69 ERA at Wrigley Field this year, but that lone win came against Pittsburgh in his last game there. He threw seven innings of one-run ball and struck out eight en route to a 4-1 victory June 9.
The right-hander has won all four of his home starts against the Pirates while compiling a 2.49 ERA.
Jackson will want to be careful with Andrew McCutchen , who is 7 for 17 (.412) with two homers and two doubles in their matchups. The Pirates' star is batting .423 (11 for 26) during a seven-game hit streak overall.
|June 09, 2013||A.J. Burnett||15-Day DL||Strained right calf|
|June 06, 2013||Jared Hughes||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 06, 2013||Wandy Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Left forearm tightness|
|June 03, 2013||Phil Irwin||60-Day DL||Right arm fatigue|
|June 03, 2013||Jeanmar Gomez||15-Day DL||Right forearm tightness|
|June 03, 2013||Jeanmar Gomez||15-Day DL||Right forearm tightness|
|June 30, 2013||Ryan Sweeney||60-Day DL||Fractured left rib|
|June 15, 2013||David DeJesus||15-Day DL||Right shoulder sprain|
|June 14, 2013||David DeJesus||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right shoulder|
|June 12, 2013||Zach Putnam||60-Day DL||Right elbow soreness|
|June 11, 2013||Zach Putnam||Day-to-Day||Left game - Undisclosed injury|
|May 27, 2013||Kyuji Fujikawa||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Had he accepted a trade last season, Alfonso Soriano might have played for a champion.
This time around, he doesn't want to think about the possibility. A move might be a consideration if he keeps this up, though.
Soriano hit a pair of two-run homers in consecutive innings to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday.
"I want to win here," he said.
The Cubs aren't doing much of that - and haven't in a few years, actually.
They're still in the early stages of rebuilding, and with his eight-year contract expiring in 2014, Soriano might be attractive, particularly to American League teams looking for a designated hitter.
Last season, the seven-time All-Star turned down a trade to San Francisco, a decision that cost him a World Series ring.
"I don't want to think about it," said Soriano, who can veto any deal. "If they have something on the table, they want to let me know before they try outside. I don't want to think about it. I just want to come to the ballpark and play my game."
He delivered in this one, and so did the pitchers.
Edwin Jackson and three relievers combined on a five-hitter, and the Cubs handed the Pirates just their third loss in 14 games.
Pittsburgh came in with the best record in the majors and a seven-game road win streak, but the Pirates couldn't get much going at the plate or find a way to contain Soriano.
His drive off Charlie Morton in the fourth after Pedro Alvarez homered in the top half put the Cubs ahead, and he followed that with a long drive to the bleachers in left to make it 4-1 in the fifth.
That was enough for Jackson (5-10), who won his second straight start. A disappointment after signing a four-year deal with Chicago in January, the veteran right-hander had one of his better outings and improved to 6-2 in 10 starts against Pittsburgh.
He held the Pirates to just one run and four hits in 5 2-3 innings, leaving to cheers after he walked Garrett Jones to put runners on first and second.
James Russell came in and struck out Alvarez to end the threat.
Matt Guerrier worked two scoreless innings, and Kevin Gregg came on in the ninth for his 15th save in 16 chances.
"Every time we had a chance to maybe extend an inning or move the chains Jackson made a pitch and got out of the inning," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Morton (1-2) pitched six innings for Pittsburgh, allowing four runs and seven hits. He struck out six and walked three, but the long balls by Soriano were the difference.
Starling Marte had two hits for the Pirates after collecting three the previous day and extended his streak to a career-high 11 games. He also had two steals, although he got caught trying to swipe third in the third inning.
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker left the game because of discomfort on his right side and is day to day. Brandon Inge replaced him at second base in the fifth.
Soriano put the Cubs ahead in the fourth after Anthony Rizzo doubled off the left-field wall, and he struck again with a shot in the fifth. The ball sailed to the last row of the left-field bleachers for his 12th homer this season.
That gave him 32 multi-homer games in his career and two this season. He also tied Harold Baines for 59th on baseball's career home run list with 384 and took sole possession of 12th place on Chicago's list with his 175th and 176th homers as a Cub after beginning the day even with Hall of Famer Andre Dawson .
"It's fun when we have a teammate swinging the bat real well," Jackson said. "It's a lot of fun in the dugout. It's positive energy and that's what this team needs."
NOTES: Hurdle was a bit amused by footage showing an usher interrupting an interview with his dad by Pittsburgh broadcaster Robby Incmikoski during Friday's game. The usher told them they were blocking fans' view. Hurdle said a few of his family members were upset. "I'm kind of just taking the high road and chuckling about it," Hurdle said. This weekend is the Pirates' annual father/son trip, where players and coaches get to bring their dads. ... The Cubs gave top prospect Javier Baez a promotion, moving him from Class A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee. The infielder was their minor league player of the month for June. "It's time for a new challenge for Javier, and I think he'll respond well to it," general manager Jed Hoyer said. He also said it's "highly unlikely" Baez will reach the majors this year. ... A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.12 ERA) returns to the Pirates' rotation after missing the past month with a strained right calf, and Carlos Villanueva (2-4, 3.45) starts for the Cubs on Sunday.