Levine: Wind, Bullpen Blow Cubs’ Early Lead

By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — Backed by a strong wind blowing out and right-hander Jake Arrieta on the mound, the Cubs were in line for their seventh win of the season Saturday afternoon.

Arrieta had a 4-0 lead in the first inning. On a day when the wind was blowing out to left field at 24 mph, Kris Bryant hit a 451-foot rocket off of the left field video board for his first of two homers on the day. But the Cubs’ lead was soon gone with the wind in an 8-7 loss to the Pirates.

Arrieta gave up wind-blown home runs to Francisco Cervelli and Starling Marte. He surrendered three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings while throwing 98 pitches — good enough numbers for Arrieta, who should have won his third game of the season and 57th as a Cub. That would have been accomplished in 101 starts, the second-best win record that quickly in Cubs history and just two shy of Grover Cleveland Alexander’s 59.

Addison Russell had a solid day at the plate with three runs driven in. With its hot start in taking a 6-2 lead, Chicago knocked out Pittsburgh right-hander Tyler Glasnow in the fourth inning, but the Pirates fought back with a run in the sixth and five more in the seventh off of left-hander Brian Duensing and right-hander Pedro Strop.

The game shifted in the seventh inning on Andrew McCuthchen’s three-run blast off of Strop’s slider at 83 mph. This was a rare hiccup for the bullpen, which entered the game Saturday with a collective .171 batting average against through the first 10 games.

Wednesday saw the Cubs fall 2-0 to the Dodgers in a game that could’ve been won if not for a pair of long flyouts kept in the ballpark by the wind. On Saturday, it was completely different.

“This ballpark is two different fields,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said about the six home runs hit on an exceedingly windy afternoon. “They just got more balls up in the air than we did. That was pretty much the tale of the game. That is why I prefer the other Wrigley Field.”

Arrieta has been concentrating on cutting down his bases on balls this season after his command was shaky at times in 2016. He has only walked five in three games so far, with just one free pass issued Saturday.

Ultimately, it was two homers that came back to bite him.

“You just pray they don’t get the ball in the air too many times,” Arrieta said about the hitter-friendly conditions. “The Cervelli homer, I felt like he was jammed a bit. Same thing with Marte — he stayed inside the ball pretty well. Two solo homers. If you are going to give them up, you prefer no one is on base. I don’t think you will see a day when the wind blows out harder than this.”

Bryant’s first home run of the season was hit off of the lower right side of the left-field video board, giving him a 4-2 lead on the rest of the league in hitting the three-year-old board. He would add a wind-aided homer in the ninth inning, which cut the Cubs’ deficit to 8-7.

“I didn’t even know it hit the scoreboard until I got into the dugout,” Bryant said. “I guess it does feel different.

“You feel like you really got it. That is a nice target, especially in batting practice when the wind is blowing out like it did today.”

The Cubs are now 6-5 on the season, no thanks to the home-field conditions. This contrasts considerably from the 17-5 and 25-6 start they had in 2016.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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