The Chicago Cubs' Travis Wood isn't exactly known as a winning pitcher—up until last Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates anyways. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Jeff Samardzija had not pitched a complete game. That is until Saturday night. And a pair of rookies—starter Chris Rusin and reliever James Russell—were instrumental in the Bucs' defeat on Sunday.
Their opponents included two men often regarded as the Pirates' aces: AJ Burnett and James McDonald. Only Jeff Locke, who pitched on Sunday, was as green as his opponents. And he got a no-decision, which reliever Jason Grilli lost.
To make matters worse, all three Cub victories (Pirate defeats) took place in PNC Park. According to CBS Sports, Chicago has won only six road games since the All Star break, but five of those were in Pittsburgh.
With seven errors that led to six unearned runs (out of 12), the Pirates would have lost in any event on Friday to Wood, who seems to pitch well only every other month. But Wood did his part with six innings of scoreless ball, and the Bucs were able to score only two runs off Cub relievers, meaning that even if the fielders and relievers had given up no runs, the three earned runs surrendered by Burnett would have sunk them.
Samardzija is a promising Cubs pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA who nevertheless is 9-13 on the year because he receives little run support. But the four runs that he received Saturday was enough for him since his ERA for those nine innings was 2.00 (with a third Pirate run unearned).
Rusin is an unknown, pitching his third major league game, but of his three opponents so far, only the Washington Nationals have batted well against him. Both Pittsburgh and Milwaukee did not. Russell, meanwhile, has been a strong reliever in the first two months of the year, and (so far) in the last two months, having racked up a high ERA in June and July.
There was basically no way that the Pirates could have won on Friday. In Saturday's game, the Pirates jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, with a single, a hit batsman, a walk and a single that scored two runs.
But they then had few additional chances to score. There was a (wasted) double by Pedro Alvarez in the fourth inning, and an error that allowed Rod Barajas to take second base in the eighth, after which a single scored him.
The third game was arguably the most competitive. Chicago rookie Chris Rusin gave up only one run in five innings, and Pittsburgh's rookie Jeff Locke, gave up two runs in six. Down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the Pirates put men on first and third with one out. A balk by reliever James Russell sent home Brock Holt for the tying run, and Andy McCutchen to second base.
This could have opened the way to a higher score, but Garret Jones flied out, and Pedro Alvarez grounded out to end the inning. A two-run homer in the top of the eighth put Chicago back in the lead.
The Pirates loaded the bases with one out against closer Carlos Marmol in the ninth. But Marmol managed to get the last two outs by striking out Gaby Sanchez, and inducing Pedro Alvarez to fly out.
While the veteran Marmol closed out a grim weekend for the Pirates, it was really the far less experienced starters, and middle reliever James Russell, who appear to have closed the door on the Bucs' wildcard hopes.