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Pittsburgh Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) pitches in the first inning during a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, July 15, 2019. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

After getting swept by the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field coming out of the All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates needed a big response Monday night at Busch Stadium.

They failed, big time. Their sloppy 7-0 loss kept them 5½ games back of the first-place Cubs in the National League Central.

The Pirates have been outscored 29-10 in their four losses coming out of the break. “We’ve all got work to do,” manager Clint Hurdle surmised after the game.

Everything went wrong for them Monday. Starting pitcher Joe Musgrove had good stuff but he couldn't quite put away the Cardinals.

“It comes down to execution,” Musgrove told reporters after the game. “I was a little sporadic with that throughout the night, not very consistent. I made some good pitches, some borderline pitches that didn’t go my way. That put me in tough counts. Ultimately have to be a little better with execution.

“They had really good at-bats. They fouled off some really tough pitches. When guys do that, it puts you, as a starter, in a tough spot. ... It’s just one of those games where I had to grind my way through and try to make things work.”

The Pirates offense sputtered -- and Bryan Reynolds getting doubled off second base after Dexter Fowler robbed Starling Marte of a RBI double added to that frustration.

Pittsburgh leftfielder Corey Dickerson misplayed a Tyler O'Neill liner for a run-scoring error and he gifted Paul Goldschmidt a double at the left field wall by letting the ball clank off his glove.

“The first one kind of stunk,” Dickerson told reporters. “We were playing him pull side. He hit a line drive, topspin, kind of similar to a lefty would hit a flare but a lot harder. It just stayed in the lights.”

On Goldschmidt's double, Dickerson got back to the wall and timed his jump well. He just didn't catch the ball.

“I should have made that play,” he said. “I was on the wall, jumped a little bit. It hit in my glove, popped out. I felt bad for Joe, trying to preserve his outing. It’s unfortunate. Should have caught that ball. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

The Pirates' exasperation was summed up when Marte hit into a double play and jogged to first, drawing Hurdle's attention.

“I talk to our players about us all giving our effort that we need to give all the time,” Hurdle said. “He needs to get down the line. We all need to get down the line. We all need to continue to play hard.”

TALKIN' BASEBALL

Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:

Craig Edwards, ESPN.com: "Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt are the struggling stars of the Cardinals' offense, but (Jack) Flaherty is representative of their equally disappointing rotation. Flaherty is still missing bats with a 26% strikeout rate, but his 20 homers allowed this season already matches last year's total. The stuff is there and the Cardinals need an ace, even if their offense finally comes around."

Matt Martell, SI.com: "With Ben Zobrist's return to the diamond this season in doubt and Addison Russell struggling since returning from his suspension, the Cubs could look to add some middle infield depth this month. Russell is hitting .242 with five homers and a .714 OPS, and Chicago is 12-22 in games he has started this season. (The Cubs are 29-30 since Russell returned on May 8, making them 17-8 when he hasn’t started in that span.)  The best option could be for the Cubs to look outside their organization for a low-cost second baseman. Enter Starlin Castro, who played his first six seasons at Wrigley Field before he was traded to the Yankees in December 2015. Castro likely would be a hotter trade target right now ... if not for being in the midst of a career-worst campaign. But Castro’s woes could be a benefit to the Cubs, who perhaps could land him for unspectacular prospect(s), though they may have to take on some of the approximately $6 million he’s still owed this year and the $1 million buyout on his 2020 team option. Why would the Cubs want Castro, who’s hitting .250 with a .619 OPS this year? He’s been much better lately, slashing .311/.324/.447 since June 14 (25 games), and is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak with a .421 average (16-for-38) in that span."

Matt Snyder, CBSSports.com: "As we get set for the last two weeks before the trade deadline and then the stretch run for the postseason, many races have relatively big gaps. The NL Central is still a bit bunched up, but the Cubs' lead is down to (2) games. The NL wild card, however, has the potential to get absolutely ridiculous. Think about this: We've been talking about the Giants and how they are going to trade impending free agent Madison Bumgarner (Will Smith, among others, as well) all season, just assuming the Giants weren't in contention and would sell. They have strung together wins in eight of their past 10, though, and sit 4 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot. That's striking range, right? A 4 1/2-game deficit is workable.  We've spent lots of time talking about what an utter mess the Mets are -- and it is a mess -- and we've all wondered if this would be the day that we wake up and find out Mickey Callaway was given his walking papers. The Mets are actually six games out of the second wild-card spot. If they somehow made it there, Jacob deGrom taking the ball all of a sudden gives them a chance to get to the NLDS.  Far-fetched? Maybe, but almost anything is on the table in the NL. We know a few things, like the Dodgers are the obvious best team and have the NL West locked up again. We should probably feel comfortable with the Braves taking the NL East, though it's not a done deal or anything. The NL Central is tight nearly top to bottom, though not as tight after the Cubs' sweep and Brewers' series loss the first weekend out of the break.  Something else we know: The wild card is a glorious mess. The Nationals -- yes, the team that was 19-31 at one point -- hold the top spot by 1 1/2 games. The Phillies -- who have gone 11-18 since June 8, which is tied for the worst record in the NL since then -- hold the second spot."

MEGAPHONE

“We had chances to score runs, man. It could have been an entirely different game, and then the bullpen would have been used differently at the end. It was closer than it actually looked. We made mistakes to compound the issue.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, after his team's messy 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.