Containing leadoff hitters an issue for Cole

Cubs get on base to open first four innings, and each baserunner reaches second

Containing leadoff hitters an issue for Cole

PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole was admittedly "out of sync" in Monday's 7-2 loss to the Cubs at PNC Park, the long-awaited rematch of last season's National League Wild Card Game. That description applied to the Pirates' work controlling the Cubs' running game, too.

Cole allowed the Cubs' leadoff man to reach safely in each of his first four innings, and they all took second base without a hit or a walk to get them there. Dexter Fowler stole second twice, Addison Russell added one and Matt Szczur got there on Cole's errant pickoff throw.

"I thought we had done a good job with the running game so far," Cole said. "Obviously we got abused tonight."

Indeed, Cole had only permitted one stolen base in his first four starts combined. He noticeably improved that area of his game compared to last year, when he allowed 25 steals, the fifth-highest total in the Majors.

Fowler swipes second

What happened Monday was either an uncharacteristic effort or a return to last season's form. Catcher Francisco Cervelli took the blame on himself, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle indicated that the team had already identified the issue.

"I think it's another area that we're going to have to continue to peel some layers back with him," Hurdle said. "We felt like we were making some progress, then something got exposed today that I think we've got a couple thoughts on. We'll look at some video tape and then go back to work with it."

Szczur moves to second on error

Cole's issues getting out the Cubs' leadoff men sparked their aggressive baserunning. Fowler singled in the first and walked in the third. Russell singled in the second, and Szczur singled in the fourth. Was there any particular issue with the first batter of each inning?

"Other than not getting him out, no," Hurdle said. "That was part of the challenge."

And for the second straight day, the Pirates were challenged by a delayed double steal.

With runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth, reliever A.J. Schugel was pitching to Cubs starter Jason Hammel. Schugel fired a 1-1 pitch to Cervelli, and David Ross took off for second base. Josh Harrison received the throw, started to run down Ross and fired an errant throw home to Cervelli as Szczur scampered home from third.

Szczur scores on error

On Sunday, the Reds executed a similar play, and the Pirates defended it equally well -- until the final moment. The ball popped out of catcher Chris Stewart's glove trying to tag the runner.

This time, it was Harrison's high throw that doomed the play. Cervelli jumped for it, but the ball sailed well above his head and Szczur easily scored.

"We've done everything but get an out right at the end. We were set up to," Hurdle said. "We've got to put the last piece of that play in, because I imagine the league will keep running that against us until we stop it."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.