National League Central teams might not have the Houston Astros to beat up anymore. But they still have the Chicago Cubs.
Andrew McCutchen drove in two runs and scored another as the Pirates beat the Cubs, 4-2, Thursday afternoon at PNC Park to wrap up a three-game sweep.
With the victory, the Pirates ended their 10-game homestand at 8-2 and are 29-18 this season. The 1992 Pirates, the franchise's most recent team to finish a season with a winning record, were 26-21 through its first 47 games that year.
McCutchen said the offense still isn't clicking, which means he believes the Pirates have not reached their potential.
"That's the great thing about baseball, you never know what your ceiling is," McCutchen said. "You can never say 'They are at the top, and that was their ceiling.' There are too many games, too many numbers. Our ceiling is infinity, I guess, if you put it that way."
Pirates vs. Brewers, 8:10 p.m., Miller Park, Milwaukee.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
RHP A.J. Burnett (3-4, 2.57) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (3-2, 5.44).
- Key matchup:
Burnett vs. Miller Park. In the hitter-friendly ballpark, Burnett is 1-3 in five career starts with a 5.68 ERA.
- Hidden stat:
The Brewers are 4-15 since winning two of three in their first series against the Pirates this season at Miller Park.
The Pirates won three of four games against the Milwaukee Brewers and two of three against the Astros (now in the American League) before the series against Cub. All three teams have sub-.500 records. But, the Pirates believe the accomplishment is meaningful.
"It really doesn't matter who we're playing," shortstop Clint Barmes said. "Not one win has been easy this year. I feel like we definitely earned everything that we've gotten. Anytime you win a homestand like this is huge, at any point in the year."
The game was delayed one hour and 47 minutes by a rainstorm that passed through the area in the top of the fourth inning, with the Pirates leading 4-1.
Pirates starter Jeanmar Gomez pitched well until the rain ended his outing. He allowed one earned run on three hits in 32/3 innings, striking out two and walking none. He threw 56 pitches, 38 for strikes, but the long delay spoiled what appeared to be a strong start by the young right-handed pitcher.
"I feel good because today my stuff was working -- my sinker, my changeup, my slider was working," Gomez said.
Since transitioning from reliever to starter at the beginning of May, Gomez has a 2.82 ERA in 221/3 innings.
He said he was not frustrated by having to leave early, even though he felt he was on top of his game. His catcher, Michael McKenry, didn't share that sentiment.
"I hated seeing it," McKenry said. "Obviously, he's a guy that can pitch really deep into a ballgame with that good sinker, so it was tough. But it's uncontrollable, and our bullpen came in and took care of business."
Vin Mazzaro earned the win, pitching 21/3 scoreless innings of relief. Justin Wilson threw 11/3 scoreless innings, and Jason Grilli picked up his league-leading 19th save this season with a clean ninth.
Gomez's counterpart, Edwin Jackson, didn't fare as well before the rain, allowing four earned runs on six hits over three innings. He walked one and struck out six, but picked up his seventh loss, tying him for the league lead. Two of those losses came against the Pirates.
McCutchen, who finished 3 for 4, sparked the Pirates offense with RBI singles in the first and second as the Pirates took an early lead they never relinquished.
Gomez cruised through the three innings, striking out two while facing the minimum number of batters. But things took a turn for the worse in the fourth in more ways than one.
He allowed a leadoff double to David DeJesus, who reached third on Starlin Castro's single as the Cubs put runners on first and third with no outs. DeJesus scored when Anthony Rizzo grounded into a fielder's choice as the Cubs (18-28) cut into the early Pirates lead.
With two outs, Nate Schierholtz hit a broken-bat grounder to first that should have ended the inning. But the ball slipped through Garrett Jones' legs, allowing Schierholtz to reach first and extend the inning.
Then, the rains came, soaking PNC Park and keeping the players off the field for nearly two hours. The lengthy delay ended the day for both starting pitchers.
When play resumed, Pedro Alvarez kept a run from scoring with a spectacular diving play. With a runner on third, Alvarez made a diving stop to his left and threw out Welington Castillo at first to end the inning.
He wasn't the only Pirate to make a great defensive play.In the sixth, Castro hit a ball into the right-field corner and tried to stretch it into a double, but Travis Snider fired to second, beating Castro by half- step for the out. In the seventh, McCutchen made a sliding catch on a shallow fly by DeJesus that, had it dropped, would have allowed the Cubs to score.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published May 23, 2013 9:45 PM