PITTSBURGH — The Cubs approached the final days to the trading deadline like they couldn’t add enough pitching before August.
They might get a good idea very quickly whether they were right.
After adding another former closer, Brandon Kintzler, in a trade from the Nationals less than two hours before Tuesday afternoon’s deadline, the Cubs got another short start from the rotation – this time ace Jon Lester going just five innings in a 5-4 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park, their third loss in four games.
Kintzler, who’s expected to join the bullpen on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, is the third pitcher the Cubs added in trades for minor-leaguers over the final two weeks leading to the non-waiver deadline.
The one in position to make the biggest impact, big-name starter Cole Hamels, makes his Cubs debut Wednesday with the Cubs seeking a much needed victory, and against a Pirates team that suddenly looks like a threat to the Cubs’ division-title hopes.
“They’ve been a solid team all year,” Lester (12-4) said of a Pirates team that forced Lester to spend 101 pitches in five innings to win for the 16th time in 20 games. “I think people kind of wrote them off early. Really other than getting rid of [Andrew] McCutchen [in an offseason trade] their lineup hasn’t changed. … And their young [pitchers] all have good arms.”
And in the 18 hours before the deadline, the Pirates traded for Texas closer Keone Kela and landed the best starting pitcher traded during the month in Chris Archer from the Rays.
“This team is definitely not out of it,” said Lester, who gave up an RBI double and two-run homer in the third inning.
“It’s interesting to see what the Pirates are doing right now,” Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. “We knew every team was going to be solid in our division. We said that from the start, and with two months left you can’t leave anything to chance.”
The Pirates moved to six games back of the first-place Cubs with the victory. The Brewers, in a virtual tie with the Cubs after a 1-0 victory against the Dodgers late Tuesday, after adding two more bats in the final three days before the deadline in former All-Stars Mike Moustakas from the Padres and Jonathan Schoop from the Orioles.
“Every team still has a chance in this race, especially with the rosters that we all have,” Hendricks said.
Kintzler, who was acquired for advanced-Class-A pitcher Jhon Romero, saved 29 games for the Twins and Nationals last year and joins a bullpen that includes three others with closing experience: Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Brandon Morrow (on the disabled list with biceps inflammation).
“If you look at our group right now without Brandon being in there, there’s a lot of guys that can finish a game,” said Maddon, who also pointed to the ability to use one of those tested arms in the sixth as a “middle closer” in a hot spot.
“And then here comes Brandon back,” he added, “and all of a sudden it gets really fun.”
It’s at least unclear when that might be. Morrow still hasn’t thrown a baseball since the last time he pitched, in the final game before the All-Star break.
The Cubs also are anxiously awaiting the return of their former MVP, Kris Bryant, from an achy shoulder sometime in August.
Especially after watching another close one get away after a ninth-inning rally fell short, Addison Russell appearing to slide safely into third with an RBI triple and nobody out — until a crew chief review resulted in a reversal.
Meanwhile, they need innings from their starters, with Hamels, the four-time All-Star getting the next shot to infuse some added life into the Cubs’ final stretch.
“I’m really excited for that,” said Lester, a left-hander from the same draft class who has long drawn comparisons to the lefty Hamels. “Not only as a teammate but on a personal side just watching from afar for so long.”
And with Jesse Chavez and Kintzler added to a bullpen mix that already was considered the Cubs’ best and deepest in years? So deep that lefty Randy Rosario (1.97 ERA) likely will have to make room on the roster for the veteran Kintzler?
“I think we addressed what we wanted to address,” said Hoyer, who added the front office stayed so “targeted” throughout the process that no substantive talks were had for any position players. “We were pretty clear that we wanted to add pitching and pitching depth, and we did that.
“Now it comes down to how we play.”