After a series in which the Pirates found themselves outplayed, manager Clint Hurdle boiled their issues down to one thing.
"It's time to win a game," Hurdle said. "Doesn't really matter who you're playing. It's time to put a foot down and win a game."
Three Chicago home runs and missed offensive opportunities by the Pirates provided the Cubs with a 4-2 win Sunday at PNC Park and sent the Pirates off to Cincinnati with memories of a series sweep at home fresh in their minds.
"The best way to move on is to move on," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "That's the easiest way that you can solve that puzzle. Move on to wherever you need to go. You don't need to worry about what happened. Move on and get ready for tomorrow."
The Pirates (72-67) have lost seven of their past nine games. They scored a three-game total of seven runs while being swept by the Cubs, who are 32 games under .500 and in fifth place in the National League Central, not long after getting swept by the fourth-place Padres in San Diego at the end of August.
"We've got to play better," Hurdle said. "They know that. We had an opportunity to do some things at home; we did not get that done."
The St. Louis Cardinals beat Milwaukee Sunday, pushing the Pirates to 21/2 games back in the race for the NL's second wild-card playoff spot.
The Pirates finished their game 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 runners. They left the bases loaded in the ninth and had two on and none out in the fifth but could not score either time.
"We're not doing enough things well as a team to win games," Hurdle said. "They played better defense than us, they pitched better than us, they hit better than us for three games. We've got to play better ball. We've got to cash in on opportunities when they're there."
Three pitches torpedoed the Pirates' pitching staff, the third of which was the most damaging. After Jason Grilli allowed a single to Anthony Rizzo in the eighth, Alfonso Soriano hit the first pitch he saw into the bullpen to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead.
Grilli (1-6) took the loss for the second consecutive game. He has now allowed a run in each of his past three outings after yielding two runs and three hits in one-third of an inning.
Chicago relievers Manuel Corpas and James Russell helped the Pirates tie the score in the seventh. Brock Holt hit a leadoff triple, and Corpas intentionally walked McCutchen after falling behind in the count two batters later.
The left-handed Russell replaced Corpas to face left-handed hitter Garrett Jones, but Russell threw frequently to first, worried that McCutchen would steal second. Eventually, Russell balked, scoring Holt and tying the score, 2-2.
"It wasn't fluid," McCutchen said of the balk. "He budged a little bit."
The other two troublesome pitches came from Jeff Locke, who grooved two fastballs in the fourth that turned into two Cubs homers.
Josh Vitters hit the first pitch he saw into the seats in left, and Anthony Recker homered to dead center two batters later to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
"You make bad pitches, and hitters are going to capitalize," Locke said. "That's what happened today.
"They say solo homers are never going to really hurt you, but you give up multiple ones, they add up."
Locke pitched well other than those two mistakes, surrendering two runs on seven hits in six innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out six.
McCutchen hit Chris Rusin's sinker into the seats in left in the first inning for his 25th home run this season but first since Aug. 15.
The Pirates now face a seven-game road trip that begins tonight in Cincinnati against the Reds. They will finish the trip next weekend in Chicago, against the Cubs
"We've got to move on," Hurdle said.
"We got to go to Cincinnati, play the best team in the division right now, find a way to win a game tomorrow."
Team W L GB
Atlanta Braves 81 60 --
St. Louis Cardinals 74 65 --
L.A. Dodgers74 661/2
Pirates 72 67 2
• Sunday's scores
Cubs 4, Pirates 2
Braves 3, Mets 2
Dodgers at Giants, late
Brewers X, Cardinals X
• Game: Pirates (Rodriguez, 10-13) at Reds (Mat Latos, 12-4).
• When: 7:10 p.m.
• Where: Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati.
• TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
• Inside: Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Notebook, Page D-5
STOP THE SKIDpirates
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 10, 2012 4:00 AM