With front office restless back home, Cubs blow another on the road as Pirates walk off with 6-5 victory

Newly signed $43 million closer Craig Kimbrel is 1-for-2 in save chances as a Cub after blowing his second chance Wednesday at PNC Park.

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Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates

Yu Darvish pitched into the seventh inning Wednesday night.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH — They didn’t get routed this time. And they got more out of their starting pitcher than they did in the previous two games combined.

But don’t be fooled by anyone in the clubhouse after a blown ninth-inning lead that the Cubs’ 6-5 loss Wednesday to the Pirates was any kind of step in the right direction.

For a team with October expectations and a playoff pedigree, platitudes not only are bad looks but even might suggest symptoms of larger issues that have been plaguing the Cubs for more than half their season.

With the brass back home calling their play ‘‘unacceptable,’’ referring to ‘‘sloppiness’’ and threatening ‘‘a ton of change,’’ the Cubs lost for the fifth time in the first six games of their road trip and for the seventh time in their last nine games overall.

Consider second baseman Addison Russell’s ill-advised, no-regrets throw to the plate in the ninth that allowed the tying run to score Exhibit A.

‘‘We were playing for the out and threw the ball to the plate, and that kind of messed things up a little bit,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘If the ball’s hit hard, you have a shot at it. Otherwise, just get the out.’’

Said Russell: ‘‘I’m pretty much thinking home before the play even developed. . . . I don’t regret my decision going home.”

Maddon didn’t bring the infield all the way in with one out and runners at second and third because he said Pirates batter Adam Frazier was too hot to offer him a better chance to put the ball through the infield. And he didn’t want to eliminate closer Craig Kimbrel’s margin for error with an intentional walk.

Whether the strategy was right or wrong, the communication apparently was poor and the execution worse.

‘‘These kinds of losses are difficult,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘But you get back in the huddle; that’s all you can do. You don’t cry. You don’t throw things. You come back tomorrow, and you try to win the last game of the series.’’

The defeat clinched the Cubs’ sixth consecutive road-series loss, matching the longest such skid (in 2017) since president Theo Epstein’s front-office team took over in 2012.

Take solace in right-hander Yu Darvish becoming the first Cubs starter to throw a pitch in the seventh inning in 10 games?

Fine. But know that the Cubs have lost 15 of their last 19 road games and that their road record (16-26) is the sixth-worst in the majors and the second-worst in the National League.

Encouraged by Victor Caratini, who was pressed into starting duty because of injuries, hitting a home run from each side of the plate?

Whatever. The Cubs haven’t won a series — home or away — since sweeping the Cardinals at home a month ago.

And the only thing keeping them anywhere near sniffing distance of the top of the NL Central with three games left before the break is the fact that the division has drifted aimlessly right along with them the last two months. After the first-place Brewers lost to the last-place Reds, only 4½ games separated the top from the bottom.

Epstein used his weekly hit on the Cubs’ flagship radio station to air his dissatisfaction with the the team’s five-week slide toward the break, a stretch about which ‘‘guys are disgusted and working hard to change,’’ he said.

While the front office has positioned the Cubs to be buyers at the trade deadline July 31, Epstein made it clear selling is on the table without a serious change of direction from a team that is 16-24 since May 22.

‘‘We want to be in a position to have enough belief that we’re looking to aggressively add and polish up what we feel can be a championship team,’’ he said. ‘‘If we’re not, that means that this stretch of bad play has continued. And if this stretch of bad play continues, a ton of change is in order.’’

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