By Travis Sawchik/The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (TNS)
The Chicago Cubs are who everyone thought they were.
That’s a problem for the Pirates.
The Cubs, the preseason NL favourite, certainly have played like the best team in the league through April, and continued to look like the class of the division in completing a three-game sweep of the Pirates on Wednesday with a 6-2 win. The series was Chicago’s first appearance in Pittsburgh since their wild-card victory last October.
The Cubs departed Wednesday with a plus-93 run differential, the third-best mark in the modern era through 26 games, trailing only the 1902 Pirates (plus-102) and 1905 Giants (plus-96), according to Baseball Reference. The Cubs left PNC Park one run better in differential through 26 games than the 1939 New York Yankees, who finished with the all-time best run differential (plus-411), according to Comcast stats co-ordinator Christopher Kamka.
Cubs catcher David Ross was asked to address some of the heated moments of the series, including Sean Rodriguez exchanging words with the Cubs on Wednesday.
“We’re here to play baseball, we’re here to win,” Ross said. “I think our play speaks for itself.”
The next closest team in run differential to the Cubs? The Washington Nationals at plus-50.
The Pirates have a plus-3 run differential, 15th in baseball.
The Cubs (20-6) hold a six-game lead over the Pirates (15-13) and outscored the Bucs in the series 20-5.
The Cubs have arguably the top collection of young position players in the game, thanks to shrewd drafting and trades. They have a pair of aces leading a strong rotation and a bullpen that has been a strength early this season. The Cubs have a loose clubhouse led by manager Joe Maddon, who is regarded as one of the best in the sport.
The Cubs entered the day tied with the Cardinals for the MLB lead in runs (153), and have the majors’ lowest ERA (2.29).
Yet, the Pirates were not exactly effusive in praise regarding their NL Central rival.
What was perhaps most telling was how quiet and unpopulated the postgame home clubhouse was as reporters waited for players to comment on what to make of the measuring-stick series.
“I don’t think about opposing teams and what they are doing. and what they are capable of doing,” Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “I just focus on us.”
The Cubs dominated the series even without Kyle Schwarber, a prized young bat who is out for the season with a knee injury, and Jason Heyward, who is dealing with a sore wrist.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t play that well,” Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison said. “We do well with moving on past that.”
Maddon called the Cubs-Pirates a “legitimate” rivalry Tuesday.
“It’s great for baseball,” said Maddon, a northeastern Pennsylvania native. “It’s great for fan bases. For the players, it’s interesting. It’s all those things. It’s kind of like Hazelton and West Hazleton.”
But for this to remain a rivalry in 2016, the Pirates have to fare better in their remaining 16 games against the Cubs, with three more next weekend in Chicago.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked to assess what should be taken from the sweep by their rival. “We flush it,” Hurdle said “A lot of people that don’t play the game don’t flush it.”
Chicago Cubs 6 Pittsburgh 2
Cincinnati 7 San Francisco 4
NY Mets 8 Atlanta 0
LA Angels 7 Milwaukee 3
Washington 13 Kansas City 2
Seattle 9 Oakland 8
Colorado 2 San Diego 0
Cleveland 4 Detroit 0
NY Yankees 7 Baltimore 0
Toronto 4 Texas 3
Miami 4 Arizona 3
Tampa Bay 8 LA Dodgers 5
Boston 5 Chicago White Sox 2
Houston 16 Minnesota 4
St. Louis 5 Philadelphia 4
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