PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Chicago Cubs are heading to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. If their offense doesn’t pick up soon, it might be a short stay.
Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier and Ke’Bryan Hayes led off the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back homers off Kyle Hendricks as the last-place Pirates slipped by the postseason-bound Cubs 2-1 on Wednesday night.
“I was just trying to get something to hit,” Frazier said after his ninth career leadoff homer, third-most in franchise history. “He’s a good pitcher. Two strikes, just fighting. Got inside of a ball and got it out of there.”
Chicago clinched a spot on Tuesday night and have a healthy 3 1/2-game lead over St. Louis and Cincinnati in the NL Central with four days left in the regular season. Still, the Cubs have dropped four of five because they are struggling to generate runs, scoring two runs or less in each of the losses.
“Obviously, we want to swing the bats better than we have this year, but sometimes you have to embrace that it’s a down year offensively,” first-year Chicago manager David Ross said. “It is a down year offensively for a lot of guys. That’s just the facts. They continue to find ways to win in a lot of different ways and that’s powerful being in the situation we’re in.”
A situation the Cubs are in thanks in large part to Hendricks (6-5). He put together another solid outing, giving up just two runs over 7 2/3 innings but his unbeaten September came to a halt with two first-inning swings by the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup.
Frazier turned on the fourth pitch he saw from Hendricks and sent it to the railing atop the seats in right field and Hayes continued his impressive rookie season when he followed with his fourth of the season, a lined shot to right-center field. Frazier and Hayes became the first Pirate teammates to lead off the game with consecutive home runs since Jose Tabata and Neil Walker did it on Sept. 20, 2013.
Those shots back then came in the middle of the team’s first winning season in 21 years. That ship has long since sailed for the current group, which is in the middle of a rebuilding process. Hayes is an important part of the process, and the young third baseman finished with two hits to raise his average to .333.
Hendricks surrendered but the Cubs dropped their second straight to the retooling Pirates when they couldn’t get much of anything going against Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams and four relievers.
Williams (2-8) ended a nightmarish season on a high note, settling down after Anthony Rizzo’s 11th home run in the top of the first to record just his second win in 15 starts dating back to last season. Williams struck out four against three walks and three hits to provide him with a dash of momentum heading into an uncertain offseason.
“We’re trending up and in the right direction,” Williams said. “Unfortunately we’re just running out of games. If you were to ask us all do we wish if it was a full season? Of course.”
Richard Rodriguez worked the ninth for his fourth save, striking out Ian Happ with a runner on second at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat.
Cameron Maybin doubled twice for the Cubs but Chicago managed just five hits total and went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left at least one runner on base in each of the last four innings.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got to have professional at bats, not try to do it by yourself, to lean on each other, pick each other up,” Maybin said. “A lot of balls hit hard and that’s the game. I think we’ll be fine. We just have to keep the energy and not get down.”
Cubs: Ross is optimistic 3B Kris Bryant (lower right oblique) will return at some point this season. Bryant left Monday’s game after feeling something following his at-bat in the second inning. Ross said Bryant felt better on Wednesday and spent a portion of the day going through a series of tests on Wednesday with team trainers to “push some things.”
Pirates: OF Cole Tucker (concussion) is making progress but will not return before the regular season ends Sunday. … RHP Jameson Taillon (Tommy John) pitched three innings earlier in the week and should be ready for a regular workload at 2021 spring training.
Cubs: RHP Alec Mills (5-4, 4.14 ERA) will make his final start of the regular season in the series finale on Thursday.
Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-3, 5.03) is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in his last seven starts.
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