After second loss to Pirates, Cubs not sweating slower start

Comparisons between the 2016 and 2017 Cubs are inevitable.

As the 2017 team tries to defend the Cubs’ historic World Series title, it will have to hear what the 2016 team did differently — and perhaps better.

One thing the 2016 Cubs did was start faster. But third baseman Kris Bryant won’t be losing sleep over that.

‘‘We’re not really worried about how we started off last year [25-6] compared to this year,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’

Adam Frazier of the Pirates scores during Saturday's game. | AP

Bryant hit his first two home runs of the season — including one off the video board in left field — and Jake Arrieta left with the lead in the sixth inning, but the Cubs lost 8-7 on Saturday to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The loss dropped the Cubs to 6-5 and assured they’ll lose a series for the first time this season. That doesn’t mean they’re playing poorly, though.

‘‘We’ve actually played pretty well,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘The games haven’t been bad. That’s the laser-thin line between winning and losing.’’

The game should have been about Bryant’s power and about Arrieta managing to win with lower velocity. Instead, it was decided by the bullpen.

Andrew McCutchen hit a go-ahead three-run homer against Pedro Strop (0-1) in the seventh to complete the Pirates’ rally from a four-run deficit.

The Cubs led 6-2 after three innings and 6-3 after six, but Brian Duensing and Strop couldn’t hold it. The Pirates pulled to 6-5 on a solo homer by Josh Harrison and an RBI single by Adam Frazier against Duensing before Strop walked Starling Marte ahead of McCutchen’s homer. The five-run inning gave the Pirates an 8-6 lead.

That didn’t entirely overshadow Bryant ending his brief power outage. His video-board homer against Tyler Glasnow gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the first, and his solo blast in the ninth against Tony Watson cut the Pirates’ lead to 8-7.

‘‘I don’t think he’s been really all that off, even when the numbers weren’t there,’’ Maddon said of Bryant.

As for Arrieta, he yielded solo homers to Francisco Cervelli in the second and Marte in the sixth but limited the damage with the wind blowing out. He allowed three runs and five hits, struck out five and walked one in 5⅔ innings. His fastball stayed between 90 and 92 mph.

Arrieta’s velocity eventually will get back to where it normally is, but Maddon wants him to keep his command at its current level when it does. Arrieta’s breaking stuff has been more effective because he has been commanding his fastball better than he did in the second half of last season.

‘‘I kind of like where he’s at, quite frankly, because the delivery has been better and his strike-throwing has been better,’’ Maddon said.

Arrieta, who knows a thing or two about year-to-year comparisons, said he isn’t concerned about the 2016-vs.-2017 issue.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.

 

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