A.J. Burnett helps Pirates deal Cubs 10th straight loss

PITTSBURGH -- Pedro Alvarez is in the Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup every day because of his bat.

Turns out, the third baseman's feet -- not to mention his glove -- work, too.

Alvarez scored on an unconventional slide in the second inning for the game's only run and turned in a couple of defensive gems to help the Pirates to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Friday night.

"I try to be ready every time on defense and anticipate the ball being hit to me," Alvarez said. "Like I've said before, I take a lot of pride in my defense."

A.J. Burnett and four relievers sent the listless Cubs to their 10th straight loss by surviving on a night the Pirates allowed 10 hits and ran into trouble in just about every inning.

Burnett (3-2) gave up six hits, struck out six and walked two over 5 1/3 innings and the National League's best bullpen made it stand up as Pittsburgh extended Chicago starter Ryan Dempster's misery. Joel Hanrahan worked out of a two-on, one out jam in the ninth for his 11th save.

Dempster (0-3) remains winless since last August, surrendering one run and seven hits in 7 1/3 innings, striking out six and walking one while dropping his ERA to 2.14.

Still, it wasn't enough to keep the Cubs from posting their first 10-game losing streak since dropping the first 14 games of the 1997 season.

Chicago left 11 runners on base and went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Pittsburgh wasn't much better but only needed Rod Barajas' RBI-single that scored Alvarez to beat the floundering Cubs.

"It's unbelievable," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "We out-hit the opponent every night and can't score. We can't seem to get that hit with men in scoring position."

The Cubs started the season 13-11 but have sunk to the bottom of the NL Central thanks to an offense that has stopped producing. They have scored just four runs in their last 56 innings.

"I'm a little lost for words now," Sveum said. "It's kind of the same thing. But guys are battling, having decent, good at-bats -- just not finalizing it, really. A lot of good at-bats, just not getting it done."

Chicago had plenty of chances, putting at least one runner in scoring position in all but two innings, but Burnett relied on his slider and his defense to wiggle free on a night where he labored to get through Chicago's struggling lineup.

Burnett needed 105 pitches to get 16 outs and took advantage of some nifty glovework by Alvarez, who saved at least one run in the fifth by making a diving stab of a sharp grounder by Joe Mather then firing to first to end the inning as the Cubs came up empty with runners on second and third.

"The defense was big," Burnett said. "They saved a couple of them and I was able to find my hook for a batter or two."

Chicago threatened again an inning later only to run itself out of a two-on, one-out situation when Alfonso Soriano crashed into Alvarez trying to move from second to third on a groundball by Darwin Barney. Soriano was called out due to runners' interference and reliever Jared Hughes got Koyle Hill to ground meekly to second to end the threat.

The Cubs ran out of chances once the Pirates got to their bullpen, which leads the National League in ERA. Jason Grilli struck out the side in the seventh, Juan Cruz picked off Chicago's Tony Campana at second base to cut short a rally in the eighth before Hanrahan took over in the ninth.

Chicago put runners on the corners with one out on singles by Barney and pinch-hitter Reed Johnson but Hanrahan struck out David DeJesus and Starlin Castro to end it.

"Runners on the corners, you're thinking `How you going to get out of it?" Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "(Hanrahan) showed you how to get out, you get ahead and throw strikes."

The loss was more of the same for Dempster, who hasn't won in a stretch of 17 starts. He's been among the best pitchers in the NL this season, but has been undone by a lack of run support.

The Cubs have scored just 16 runs in Dempster's eight starts this season.

"It's hard for us -- 10 games in a row is not a lot of fun," Dempster said. "It doesn't make coming to the ballpark fun, it doesn't make going out there and playing fun. We've just got to fight through it."

Game notes
Pittsburgh RF Josh Harrison went 1 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 10 games ... Chicago reliever Carlos Marmol could be activated off the DL on Monday. Marmol hasn't pitched since May 11 due to a strained right hamstring ... Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens will start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday as he continues to rehab from a right shoulder inflammation ... The series continues Saturday, with Chicago's Paul Maholm (4-3, 4.73 ERA) facing Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia (1-5, 4.50). Maholm spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Pirates before signing with the Cubs during the offseason.