Cubs come back to earth in 4-3 loss to Pirates

A day after their 21-0 rout, the Cubs squandered chances and struggled defensively, leading to a missed opportunity to split the four-game series with Pittsburgh.

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Justin Steele, Willson Contreras and the Cubs lost Sunday’s series finale to the Pirates.

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The Cubs played an almost-perfect game Saturday. Their 4-3 loss to the Pirates on Sunday wasn’t as good.

A day after the 23-hit outburst and seven scoreless innings from starter Kyle Hendricks in the historic 21-0 victory, the Cubs were forced to use their bullpen early after Justin Steele struggled through three innings.

The offense went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left the tying and winning runs on base in the ninth inning.

The defense also took a step back. Shortstop Jonathan Villar was charged with one error and could’ve had another.

The result: losing three of four to the Pirates despite the huge victory.

“As a team, we obviously want to win ballgames, we want to be better and I think we are going to be better,” Steele said. “I think we have a very good team in this locker room. It’s baseball; things are going to happen. You’re not going to win every ballgame, but I think we’re a lot better than losing three out of four to the Pirates at home. I think we are better than that. I think a lot of guys would agree with that.”

Steele would like to be better than he was against Pittsburgh in a game that was delayed 55 minutes because of rain.

Coming off an April 19 start against the Rays in which he lasted only 2‰ innings, Steele had control issues and allowed three runs and four hits and walked four, needing 79 pitches to get nine outs.

As the game went on, Steele said he lost command of his four-seam fastball and breaking ball.

“Also, it just felt like there was a bunch of deep counts, kind of made my pitch count climb, started getting a little tired as the pitch count started climbing,” Steele said. “That’s just things you’ve got to battle through in a start.”

The Cubs also had to get past their defense.

Villar, at short with Nico Hoerner resting, had an adventurous fourth in the field. First, he mishandled Diego Castillo’s grounder and was originally charged with an error before a scoring change. He did get tagged with an error when he made a poor throw to first baseman Frank Schwindel on Ke’Bryan Hayes’ chopper, allowing Castillo to score.

Villar has made four of the Cubs’ seven errors this year, including two while playing shortstop.

“What’s he got, two games there out of how many we’ve played? He’s our backup shortstop right now,” manager David Ross said. “We have Andrelton Simmons out. [Patrick] Wisdom’s a third baseman and an outfielder, [Nick] Madrigal’s pretty [comfortable] at second, so our depth piece at shortstop is Jonathan Villar.”

Even with a brief start from Steele and the defensive issues, the Cubs still had a chance to rally after five relievers combined to allow one unearned run in six innings.

But unlike Saturday, when they went 15-for-25 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs couldn’t get the last big hit. In the ninth, Pirates closer David Bednar struck out Willson Contreras and Schwindel to end the game.

“You guys know baseball; it’s a crazy game,” Schwindel said. “I don’t think you’re going to have two games the same ever. Each day is a new battle, but we’ve got a great group of guys, and we’re going to go out there and keep fighting and play some good baseball.”

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