CHICAGO -- The Cubs have enjoyed an offensive resurgence over the past month, but Brandon Cumpton and the Pirates' bullpen held Chicago's bats in check for the second straight day -- though the Cubs were not without their chances on Sunday.
The Cubs left three men on base over the final two innings, as late rallies came up short in a 2-1 loss to the Pirates at cool, breezy Wrigley Field. After scoring at least five runs in four straight games, the Cubs managed just four over the final two games of the three-game set with Pittsburgh, coming up short in their bid to win three straight series for the first time since last June.
"I'm proud of these guys, because they're trying to -- this is a very tough division and these are the games that you're starting to fight, you're starting to feel yourself, and we didn't just come out and lay down," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We kept playing, and we just fell short."
The Cubs threatened in the eighth against lefty Tony Watson. Junior Lake and Darwin Barney lead off with back-to-back singles, the first time club had picked up consecutive hits all afternoon. Renteria initially called for Welington Castillo to pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot, but pulled him back in favor of Travis Wood, who sacrificed the runners up a base.
"I'm trying to score some runs. I'm trying to get us in a position where we can potentially tie the ballgame," Renteria said of putting the bunt on. "Whether the wind had been howling or not, I was trying to give us a situation where I saw that there was no one else throwing. The lefty was gonna stay in there, and we ended up getting Welington and [Justin] Ruggiano both at-bats in key situations.
Castillo then pinch-hit for the next batter, Chris Coghlan, and struck out on a foul tip on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, and Ruggiano was caught looking to strand the pair.
In the ninth, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro lead off with singles. Luis Valbuena struck out and Rizzo scored on Nate Schierholtz's RBI fielder's choice, but Lake flew out to end the game. The Cubs finished 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position
"Well, we had a couple opportunities before that, but we didn't get it done," Rizzo said. "We have a great bullpen. It's not a moral victory; we lost the game. Cumpton pitched a really good game for them and he shut us down."
The only legitimate opportunity the Cubs had against Cumpton came in the sixth inning. With one out, starter Jason Hammel singled and Coghlan walked, but Ryan Sweeney lined out and Rizzo grounded out. The rally represented the only time the Cubs put two men on base consecutively in Cumpton's seven innings, and they managed just two hits off the righty.
Cumpton needed just 87 pitches to get through seven innings, and racked up seven ground-ball outs.
"I tried to get ahead in the count, tried to put guys away early, tried to put the ball on the ground."
Hammel, meanwhile, pitched well enough to win. He allowed two earned runs in seven strong innings, the only damage coming in the third.
Travis Snider lead off the frame with a solo homer to left-center. Chris Stewart followed with a walk, was sacrificed to second and scored on Josh Harrison's two-out RBI single that hit Hammel in the left buttocks. Both hits came on hanging sliders from Hammel, who was OK after being hit by Harrison's liner.
Hammel retired the next nine hitters before allowing back-to-back two-out singles to Andrew McCutchen and Ike Davis in the sixth, but he stranded the pair with a popout from Jordy Mercer. In all, Hammel allowed six hits while striking out six and walking one.
"It's coming back," Hammel said of his slider. "The last two outings, previous to this one, I was leaving it up a lot. A couple today that stayed up that were hit in play, but the majority were singles. But the command of the slider and the heater are coming back, so I feel pretty good about it."
Hammel's quality outing went for naught. The Cubs have dropped two consecutive games decided by two runs or fewer and fell to 7-13 in one-run games. They also fell to 4-9 against the Pirates and 14-22 against NL Central teams.
"It's just another 2-1 loss; there's a lot of close ball games, but we're playing well," Hammel said. "We just can't scratch and claw those runs that we need. It's just a matter of learning how to do that, and that's what's going to make this team a winner."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.