Cubs use Pirates to kick-start offense

Cubs use Pirates to kick-start offense

PITTSBURGH – If a team wants to get its offense going, PNC Park is the place to go.

Todd Walker hit a two-run homer in the first inning, Aramis Ramirez added a two-run shot and the Chicago Cubs finished another successful series in Pittsburgh by defeating the Pirates 7-3 Sunday.

Derrek Lee hit a two-run double that chased starter Ian Snell (0-1) in a four-run sixth – Lee’s 43rd hit against the Pirates since 2004, the most by any major league player against another club in that span.

Lee’s success against the Pirates is reflected in the Cubs’ 13-2 record in Pittsburgh since May 30, 2004. The Cubs have won 11 of 15 and 21 of 27 against their NL Central rival, and they haven’t had a losing record against Pittsburgh since 2000.

“This is a good ballpark to hit in,” said Ramirez, whose average was in the low .200s before he had a double Saturday and an RBI single and the homer Sunday. “The wind’s not a factor here like it is at Wrigley Field.”

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    There’s something else inviting about Pittsburgh: the home team’s starting pitching staff. After seven games of a 10-game homestand, the Pirates are allowing opponents an average of 7.3 runs per game.

    Ian Snell (0-1) was the latest Pirates starter to be roughed up, allowing six runs and six hits in five-plus innings. He has yielded at least five runs in all three of his starts and has a 9.60 ERA on a starting staff that has a 7.25 ERA through 14 games.

    It was obvious Sunday that all this losing – the Pirates are 4-10 – and all this opposition scoring is wearing on new manager Jim Tracy. He was critical of Snell’s pitch location, concentration and focus, saying that being a good pitcher in the minors like Snell was in no guarantee of success in the majors.

    Tracy was unhappy that Snell got ahead of Walker 0-2 in the count in the first, only to give him a hittable fastball that Walker hit out of the park. In the sixth, Snell fell behind Lee 3-1 and again left a fastball high in the hitter’s zone.

    Snell said he made the kind of mistakes young pitchers make, but an irritated Tracy said that isn’t an acceptable excuse.

    “He’s been told one, two, 200 times in the minor leagues that when it’s 0-2, a ball in the middle of the plate is unacceptable,” Tracy said. “Against major league lineups, especially a lineup like this, you have to be able to locate pitches. There has to be a real understanding of that.”

    The Cubs won two of three in the weekend series, despite losing 2-1 to Zach Duke on Saturday night. Glendon Rusch (1-2) gave them an effective start Sunday to beat the Pirates for only the second time in nine career decisions, taking a two-hit shutout into the sixth before giving up Craig Wilson’s three-run homer.

    Wilson’s homer was his sixth of the season and fifth in 19 at-bats and Pittsburgh’s 13th in seven home games.

    But, as usual, the Pirates had fallen behind early as the Cubs took a 3-0 lead in a span of five batters. Juan Pierre and Ramirez singled ahead of Walker’s first homer, a drive into the right-field seats.

    “If we can get them going in the middle of the lineup and get Juan Pierre on base, we’ve got a chance to have a lot of stuff happening,” manager Dusty Baker said.

    Snell didn’t allow a hit over the next four innings, then gave up singles to Pierre and Freddie Bynum starting the sixth ahead of Lee’s two-run double. Ramirez made it 7-0 with his second homer, off rookie reliever Matt Capps, who has permitted three homers in six innings.

    “It’s real tough, but that’s the game,” Snell said. “You have to go through your bumps and bruises before you get going.”

    Roberto Novoa pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings in his first appearance for the Cubs this season, and closer Ryan Dempster finished in the ninth in a non-save situation.