Cutch on Cubs, competing, core-group strength

Cutch on Cubs, competing, core-group strength

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have dealt with a number of issues this year: a rash of injuries, a challenging schedule, a slew of disappointing performances. But their biggest problem, in the short and long term, just might be the Cubs.

The Bucs were blown out Monday night, 12-2, to open a four-game series at PNC Park. They have lost 13 of 16 matchups with the Cubs this season, and they have been outscored, 103-60, in those 16 games.

"This year, it is what it is. They've played extremely well against us. They've pitched extremely well," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've got a good ballclub. They've got depth. They've got some youth, some athleticism. They've got a lot of different components. One of the reasons they've won 100 games."

The Cubs are loaded with young talent, and they have shown a willingness to spend significantly on free agents like left-hander Jon Lester and outfielder Jason Heyward. They have high-level hitters, like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and their lineup runs deep. Javier Baez, batting eighth, hit a grand slam off Chad Kuhl on Monday and drove in a career-high six runs.

"They're a really good club. It's a challenge," Kuhl said. "It's a team you want to be out there for, and you want to give your best. It's a good learning experience."

It might also be instructive for the Pirates, according to Andrew McCutchen. The Cubs' strength all season has been their remarkable rotation, which boasts a Major League-best 2.89 ERA while working a league-high 960 1/3 innings. The Bucs posted a 3.21 ERA last year, second-best in the Majors, and finished with a better record, winning 98 games to the Cubs' 97.

"Look at teams that win, and look at their pitching staff. It's pretty well known, if you've got good pitching, you're going to win," McCutchen said. "For the most part, they've had those core guys that have stayed in that rotation and have done their job. They pitch and let their offense do what their offense does. That's why they're winning. On top of good starters and a good bullpen, they've got a good offense. Put all those together on a daily basis, they become a really tough team to beat. That's why they've got 100 wins this season."

So, how can the Pirates keep up with the Cubs next year?

"In order to have a good team, you've got to keep the core group of guys. Teams that win, that's what they do. They have those core guys," McCutchen said. "It's doing our best to keep the core where it's at, keep it the same. When someone goes down, someone's taking their spot and doing their job. We definitely have the pieces for that.

"It's been a different year in the aspect of injuries, trades. It's been different. It's been a lot of in-and-out this year. That's something that, hopefully going into next season, when that time gets here, that we have our team and we know what we have, know what we need."

For now, the Pirates will try to focus on their final six games. They would have to go 4-2 to finish with a .500 record and 5-1 to put together their fourth straight winning season after a streak of 20 straight losing campaigns.

"The important thing is winning. In order to finish .500, you've got to win," McCutchen said. "We don't want to end by losing like we did tonight."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.