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Bucs to regroup after rough series, Kang injury

PITTSBURGH -- Late Thursday afternoon, the Pirates departed for the Left Coast licking their wounds -- both figuratively and literally.

"We got beat in several aspects of the game all week. They outplayed us," Neil Walker said after a 9-6 loss, the Bucs' third straight to the Cubs. "And the icing on the cake is they knocked out one of our best players."

Welcome to the intensifying competition between two division rivals enjoying simultaneous winning seasons for the first time in 43 years. Yes, the Pirates and Cubs haven't both been winners in the same season since 1972, when the Bucs (96-59) won the old National League East by 11 games over the second-place Cubs (85-70).

Kang out for season, estimated to return in 6-8 months

After Jung Ho Kang sustained a left knee injury on Chris Coghlan's unsuccessful attempt to break up a first-inning double play, the infielder underwent surgery Thursday and is out for rest of the season -- another unfortunate snapshot of the tenor in MLB's best and most competitive division.

The Cubs enjoyed becoming the first visitors to win three consecutive games in PNC Park since April 2014 for two reasons.

"It helps in the sense you know you can win here,"said their manager, Joe Maddon, just in case the teams have to circle back here for the Oct. 7 National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser.

And could there have also been a sense of reprisal due to the Cubs' possible misunderstanding of Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle's pre-series comment that in the NL Central, "nobody likes each other."

It was a generic remark, meant to reflect the intense competition among the division's teams, Hurdle had made in the past. The way it was presented to Maddon spun him a little sideways.

"You're not supposed to like anybody who you play," Maddon said. "But I don't feel any kind of animosity. I don't feel it. I know what it's like to be bad, and how [the Pirates] have gotten to this point. I think there's a lot of respect as to how everybody plays."

In full context, that's exactly what Hurdle had said: "I can't speak to feelings other teams have, but the feeling I have is that, in this division, nobody likes each other; we all respect one another."

Three more regular-season games remain between the teams, Sept. 25-27 in Chicago, to further the rivalry between these two, who sit two games apart in the race for home field in the NL Wild Card Game.

"Any time you play a team 19 times … you don't start to dislike the people, but you don't want anybody to do well against you," Walker said. "And the last thing you want is somebody from your side to get hurt."

But if you are the Cubs, the first thing you might want is for the Pirates to have to go to Los Angeles and deal with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on back-to-back nights.

"Honestly, it will be tough for them to have to change time zones," Maddon said. "It's not easy. Jet lag affects everyone, especially late in the season.

"And we also went through Cy Young Week a couple of weeks ago," Maddon added.

The Cubs did California from Aug. 25-30, losing to Madison Bumgarner and Kershaw.

"That's part of the game," Maddon said, echoing Hurdle, unbeknownst to him, for the second time. "You have to beat the best to be the best."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.
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