PITTSBURGH -- Some fans will view the Cubs' three-game sweep of the Pirates at PNC Park as a statement, a reminder that the National League Central's balance of power may be shifting to Chicago. The Pirates won't.
"We flush it," manager Clint Hurdle said after the Pirates' 6-2 loss on Wednesday, their fourth straight defeat. "A lot of people who don't play the game don't flush it."
In their first trip to PNC Park since shutting out the Pirates in last year's NL Wild Card Game, the Cubs outplayed the Bucs for three days and outscored them, 20-5. Barely a month into the season, the Cubs have a six-game lead in the division.
"Unfortunately, we just didn't play that well," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "We had our chances, but we do well with moving on past that. We're going to take our day [Thursday] and get ready to go to St. Louis."
First, the Pirates must address their shortcomings. The Cubs exposed and exploited some of Pittsburgh's weaknesses throughout the week, beginning with its inconsistent starting pitching.
Jonathon Niese, who allowed six runs on Tuesday, was the only Pirates starter to pitch five full innings. Gerrit Cole allowed six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings in the opener, and Juan Nicasio followed up his best start of the season by giving up four runs (one earned) in 4 1/3 innings.
The Cubs rarely gave away at-bats, driving up the Pirates' pitch counts and finding a way on base. In other words ...
"They were able to do to our starters what we've been doing to other starters," Hurdle said.
Chicago's leadoff men tormented the Pirates all series. Pittsburgh made crucial errors -- some of them on tough plays, like McCutchen's drop that could have been the final out of the third inning -- and the Cubs made them pay. One pitch after McCutchen's error, Ben Zobrist hit a three-run homer.
"We can all look at that and know it wasn't the type of baseball we played prior to coming here," McCutchen said. "That's all it is."
Offensively, the Pirates only had one opportunity against Jake Arrieta on Tuesday, and they came up empty. They had chances to crack Jon Lester on Wednesday -- once with the bases loaded and no outs in the third, then again with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth -- and didn't score.
The Pirates finished the series 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position.
"When you play good teams and don't come through in those situations, it makes it a little tougher to win," McCutchen said.
It won't get much easier anytime soon. The Pirates will play the Cardinals three times this weekend, and they'll play three more against the Cubs at Wrigley Field next weekend.
"Just keep pushing," Harrison said. "That's what we do. We're never going to let one game or one series affect what we do as a group."