Sustained offensive woes taking toll on Bucs

Sustained offensive woes taking toll on Bucs

CHICAGO -- The Pirates have seen enough of Cubs ace Jake Arrieta to know baserunners are at a premium when he's on the mound. How do you beat him? Manager Clint Hurdle said it plainly Friday morning: "You've got to make things happen when you do get people on."

Provided two chances -- one created and one gifted -- the Pirates couldn't make it happen in a 6-0 loss to Arrieta and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Their three hits and four walks Friday afternoon belie how close they came to cracking their bearded nemesis, but in the end, the Pirates were blanked for the first time this season.

"We weren't able to convert the opportunities," Hurdle said. "When you're facing an elite pitcher and you get them and you don't convert, it usually doesn't end up well."

Early on this season, the Pirates seemed to get it done more often than not. They led the Majors with a .293 average and .378 on-base percentage in April. Those numbers dipped in May to .273 and .333, but their pitching improved enough to withstand the drop-off.

Yet as the Bucs have lost 15 of their last 20 games, falling below .500 on Friday, their offense has disappeared. In 16 games this month, they've hit .217/.297/.340, posting a Major League-low .637 OPS.

Pittsburgh didn't convert in the third inning. Jordy Mercer and Chris Stewart strung together back-to-back singles, putting runners on the corners with nobody out. Fifteen pitches later, Arrieta walked off the mound with three more strikeouts and a zero on the scoreboard; Francisco Liriano, John Jaso and Gregory Polanco all went down swinging.

The Pirates had another shot in the sixth, a rare lapse for Arrieta. Consecutive walks to Jaso, Polanco and Andrew McCutchen loaded the bases. David Freese got ahead in the count, 3-0, but struck out swinging. Matt Joyce got ahead, 3-1, then watched two strikes sail by him into catcher Miguel Montero's glove.

"He had a good day today, but we were still able to work his pitch count," Josh Harrison said. "We had some opportunities. Sometimes you get it done. Sometimes you don't."

The Pirates lost a key part of their lineup in Francisco Cervelli, and they've played around a slew of minor injuries. The schedule hasn't done the Bucs many favors, either. They went a month without a real day off, and it seems like they've drawn an ace at least once per series: Jose Fernandez in Miami, Noah Syndergaard twice, Arrieta on Friday.

But it won't get any easier. On Saturday, the Pirates will face Cubs lefty Jon Lester, who's allowed two earned runs over his last four starts.

"That's something we can't control. All we can do is put our best effort forth," Harrison said. "At the end of the day, baseball doesn't care about who we're facing and who's on the mound, who's hitting. We've got a job to do out there. Our job is to give it everything we've got, battle and be prepared. Whatever happens, happens."

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.