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Pirates Cool Off Hendricks, Playoff-Bound Cubs

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Chicago Cubs are heading to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. If their offense doesn’t pick up soon, it might be a short stay.

Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier and Ke’Bryan Hayes led off the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back homers off Kyle Hendricks as the last-place Pirates slipped by the postseason-bound Cubs 2-1 on Wednesday night.

“I was just trying to get something to hit,” Frazier said after his ninth career leadoff homer, third-most in franchise history. “He’s a good pitcher. Two strikes, just fighting. Got inside of a ball and got it out of there.”

Chicago clinched a spot on Tuesday night and have a healthy 3 1/2-game lead over St. Louis and Cincinnati in the NL Central with four days left in the regular season. Still, the Cubs have dropped four of five because they are struggling to generate runs, scoring two runs or less in each of the losses.

“Obviously, we want to swing the bats better than we have this year, but sometimes you have to embrace that it’s a down year offensively,” first-year Chicago manager David Ross said. “It is a down year offensively for a lot of guys. That’s just the facts. They continue to find ways to win in a lot of different ways and that’s powerful being in the situation we’re in.”

A situation the Cubs are in thanks in large part to Hendricks (6-5). He put together another solid outing, giving up just two runs over 7 2/3 innings but his unbeaten September came to a halt with two first-inning swings by the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup.

Frazier turned on the fourth pitch he saw from Hendricks and sent it to the railing atop the seats in right field and Hayes continued his impressive rookie season when he followed with his fourth of the season, a lined shot to right-center field. Frazier and Hayes became the first Pirate teammates to lead off the game with consecutive home runs since Jose Tabata and Neil Walker did it on Sept. 20, 2013.

Those shots back then came in the middle of the team’s first winning season in 21 years. That ship has long since sailed for the current group, which is in the middle of a rebuilding process. Hayes is an important part of the process, and the young third baseman finished with two hits to raise his average to .333.

Hendricks surrendered but the Cubs dropped their second straight to the retooling Pirates when they couldn’t get much of anything going against Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams and four relievers.

Williams (2-8) ended a nightmarish season on a high note, settling down after Anthony Rizzo’s 11th home run in the top of the first to record just his second win in 15 starts dating back to last season. Williams struck out four against three walks and three hits to provide him with a dash of momentum heading into an uncertain offseason.

“We’re trending up and in the right direction,” Williams said. “Unfortunately we’re just running out of games. If you were to ask us all do we wish if it was a full season? Of course.”

Richard Rodriguez worked the ninth for his fourth save, striking out Ian Happ with a runner on second at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat.

Cameron Maybin doubled twice for the Cubs but Chicago managed just five hits total and went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left at least one runner on base in each of the last four innings.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got to have professional at bats, not try to do it by yourself, to lean on each other, pick each other up,” Maybin said. “A lot of balls hit hard and that’s the game. I think we’ll be fine. We just have to keep the energy and not get down.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: Ross is optimistic 3B Kris Bryant (lower right oblique) will return at some point this season. Bryant left Monday’s game after feeling something following his at-bat in the second inning. Ross said Bryant felt better on Wednesday and spent a portion of the day going through a series of tests on Wednesday with team trainers to “push some things.”

Pirates: OF Cole Tucker (concussion) is making progress but will not return before the regular season ends Sunday. … RHP Jameson Taillon (Tommy John) pitched three innings earlier in the week and should be ready for a regular workload at 2021 spring training.

Bieber lowers ERA to 1.63, Indians top White Sox 3-2

CLEVELAND (AP) — Shane Bieber lowered his ERA to 1.63 in his final regular-season start, the lowest in the American League since Luis Tiant’s 1.60 for Cleveland in 1968, and Jordan Luplow hit a game-ending home run that gave the Indians a 3-2 win over Chicago on Wednesday night.

The loss dropped the White Sox in second place in the AL Central at 34-22, a half-game behind Minnesota (35-22). Chicago has lost a season-high four in a row and us 1-5 on a seven-game trip.

Bieber, who leads the big leagues with eight wins, allowed an unearned run and two hits in five innings with 10 strikeouts. The right-hander also is first in baseball with 122 strikeouts and eight double-digit strikeout games.

“I’m not going to get caught up in that stuff, but what I’m proudest of is the consistency,” he said. “You wait your whole life to pitch in games like this. It’s a lot of fun right now.”

Bieber lowered his major league-leading ERA from 1.74 and will open the postseason for Cleveland. Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel is second in the AL at 2.04 heading into his start in the series finale Thursday.

“I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to do what I’m going to be able to do over the next week,” Bieber said.

Cleveland closed within two games of the first place with their second straight last at-bat victory.

Jose Ramirez hit a three-run homer with two outs in the 10th for a 5-3 win Tuesday to clinch a playoff spot.

With the score 2-2, Luplow homered onto the porch in left field off Gio Gonzalez (1-2). Luplow, a .194 hitter, struck out in his first three at-bats and followed with his second home run of the season.

“I was trying to be aggressive and get a good pitch to hit,” Luplow said. “I just treated it the same as in any other situation.”

Brad Hand (2-1) earned the win with a perfect ninth.

White Sox starter Lucas Giolito gave up two runs and four hits in six innings, striking out 11. Manager Rick Renteria said he didn’t regret allowing the righty to throw a career-high 119 pitches.

“We got a great pitching performance from Lucas,” Renteria said. “Certainly what we needed to get, and he did a great job. We played a good ballgame, so all we can do is put it behind us and get ready to play the next one.”

Carlos Santana hit a 441-foot home run in the second and with 215 homers tied Hall of Famer Larry Doby for sixth place on the Indians list.

Edwin Encarnacion had an RBI groundout that tied the score in the fourth by bringing home Jose Abreu, who reached on an error by Ramirez at third.

Cleveland took a 2-1 lead on Franmil Reyes’ sixth-inning sacrifice fly, but Abreu tied the score with a sacrifice fly in the eighth off James Karinchak.

Abreu leads the AL with 57 RBIs, but went 0 for 2 and dropped his average to .329. Ramirez also was 0 for 2, stopping his seven-game hitting streak, while Chicago’s Tim Anderson was hitless in four at-bats and is batting .346.

Cleveland rookie Triston McKenzie made his first relief appearance, following Bieber with two scoreless innings.

DUGOUT STATUS

Indians manager Terry Francona will not return to the dugout during the regular season, but is slated to join the team’s postseason bubble. The 61-year-old has missed 42 games because of gastrointestinal surgery and blood-clotting issues.

“It gives Tito an opportunity to be around the team, even if it’s not in the dugout,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said.

STILL STEAMING

Renteria was ejected from the first two games of the series and remains angry that Anderson was tossed, along with him, by umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. “Players in high-level situations have the right to express themselves with high emotion,” he said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

White Sox: RHP Alex Colome (back spasms) played catch before the game and was cleared to pitch. One night earlier, Colome worked a perfect ninth but was unable to continue in extra innings when his back tightened.

UP NEXT

White Sox: Keuchel (6-2) had a no-decision on Sept. 19 at Cincinnati, throwing four scoreless innings in his return from a stint on the injured list caused by back spasms.

Indians: RHP Zach Plesac (4-2, 1.85 ERA) has not allowed a run in two starts against the White Sox this season, striking out 18 without a walk over 14 innings. Plesac, who will not have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, will be pitching on five days’ rest for the second straight outing.

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