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Pregame: Cubs come to town for big, err, non-routine series

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs are in town, zany suits and all

Pearl Jam thumped away in the visiting manager's office and provided the soundtrack for the locker room. Along the perimeter of the room, a kaleidoscope of hot pink jackets, black and white checkered pants and wacky ties were hanging in the stalls. The players moved busily about with their pregame routines, sharing inside jokes and handling interviews.

As the Cubs took the field for batting practice, Pirates' in-game host Joe Klimchak was practicing for some type of drawing that will take place in the park tonight. Over the PA system he excitedly announced the mock winner, "Congratulations, Janet!" The Cubs' players played right along and, in unison, celebrated fictional Janet's good fortune: "Janet!", "Awesome, Janet!", "Love you, Janet!" "We knew you could do it!" This went on for ten minutes. Later, a group of about 150 PNC Park workers started to chant "Let's go Bucs!," as they always do just before the park opens. The Cubs players were insulted, "Hey, we were being nice and now you had go and do that," "That's cold, man."

The Cubs are in town and along with high expectations, they're bringing the fun to PNC Park.

No one will say this is a BIG series, because that's silly. But it is equally inaccurate to say that it's just another series. The upcoming three games exist somewhere between BIG and routine.

Last Friday afternoon a Pirates' player was watching the Cubs-Braves game on one of the TVs in the clubhouse. He was actively annoyed as he watched the Cubs rally for five runs in the eighth inning to win the game. You don't often see players explicitly interested in the outcomes of games elsewhere, especially in May.

Clint Hurdle was asked if this was a big series, which is question no one wants to ask because you know the answer won't be "yes," and you also know the manager isn't going to be thrilled to answer it. There were no surprises today.

"It's the next team we're playing," Hurdle said. "This is the big leagues. That's kind of the way I look at it. The Cubs have a good team."

Joe Maddon hopped up on the bench in the visitor's dugout about an hour after Hurdle's press meeting and was immediately asked how many wins he thinks will be enough to win the division this season.

"I don't know, I think 95ish is always a good number to mentally try to achieve," he said. "Excess of 95 will probably do it this year."

Wearing shades and peppering his thoughts with the colloquial use of "man," Maddon talked up the Pirates, Pittsburgh and PNC Park.

"I think the [Pirates] are good," Maddon said. "They have a lot of ex-Rays, so they must be good.

"They nailed this ballpark, being able to face it in the direction they did, it's right up there as a top three ballpark."

Eight man Bullpen "Interesting"

For nearly three weeks now, Hurdle has had an eight man bullpen. It is the longest he's gone with so many relief options in his managerial career.

"It's been creative," Hurdle said. "I think I made the comment yesterday as we started playing extra innings, 'Wow! I've still got a lot of pitching left! This is going to be OK.' Which normally isn't the thing that comes out of your mouth. It's been interesting and it's been a new experience for me. I'm embracing it."

Overall, Hurdle thinks the maxed-out bullpen has helped the team during a stretch in which they are slightly short-handed from a talent perspective with Jared Hughes out.

"I think we've utilized the eight men well," Hurdle said. "I think it's played well for us. We've been able to get the pitching that we need to win games, and the guys that have been on the bench have been very representative and helped as well."

Yesterday, Neal Huntington said that the "goal" was to return to a traditional 12 pitchers, 13 position players roster once Jung-Ho Kang returned.