The Pirates are being blitzed by the Cubs this year. The season record stands at 13-3, with the Pirates outscored 103-60. Following a 12-2 throttling, the competitive gap between the clubs looks wide and, perhaps, increasing.
In the clubhouse after Monday night's loss, Andrew McCutchen leaned back in the chair by his locker and talked to a few members of the media about the question on everyone's mind: What do the Pirates need to do in order to compete with the Cubs in the future?
He wasn't in a hurry. He wasn't going through the motions of an interview. He wasn't frustrated. He was straightforward: It all starts with pitching and keeping the core intact.
"Look at teams that win, and look at their pitching staff," McCutchen said. "It's pretty well known, if you've got good pitching, you're going to win. You just look at the past, look at teams that win, look at [the Cubs] pitching staff. ...
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. When guys go down, they have a guy to take their spot."
The Pirates’ center fielder believes the current core is good enough to compete. Now it is a matter of establishing consistency.
"We definitely have the pieces for that," McCutchen said. "We’ve just got to be consistent with it and consistent with the lineup, consistent with the team. Once you do that, it becomes – I won’t say easier, but almost second nature when you’re out there on the field."
Asked if he thought the Pirates had the financial resources to keep up with the big market, big spending Cubs, McCutchen deferred to the front office.
"I don’t know. I play with my team. I don’t make the decisions up top as far as who goes and who comes, but it is very important to have a core and to keep a core. That’s what a core is. It doesn’t change."
This year’s been particularly difficult because of all the changes, some of which were controllable and some not.
"It’s been a different year in the aspect of injuries, trades," McCutchen said. "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."
Finally, McCutchen emphasized that the first step is for every player to focus on how he can improve and, to that end, he knows that he has to return to career form.
"I've got to focus on me first," McCutchen said. "Keeping the focus on myself when the season's over. When Spring Training starts up, we'll see where we're at."