Cubs’ rebuilding will be tougher in tougher division
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 23, 2013 10:11PM
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, center, scores ahead of the tag of Chicago Cubs catcher Welington Castillo, left, on a RBI-single by Michael McKenry during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh Thursday, May 23, 2013. The Pirates won 4-2. Making the call on the play is umpire Mark Wegner. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Updated: May 25, 2013 12:11AM
PITTSBURGH — If the Cubs didn’t already know how tough their climb back toward contender status was going to be, get a load of what’s happening in the National League Central.
“I remember my first two years here, we beat the Pirates all the time,” Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano said Thursday before the Pittsburgh Pirates finished off a sweep of the Cubs.
Now the Pirates are one of three division rivals making the NL Central look like arguably the toughest division in baseball — and they’re making the Cubs their whipping boys along the way.
Considering the longevity that seems to be built into the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pirates, the Cubs’ task is even more daunting.
“Used to be where 90 wins would get you the Central title,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said of a division won with 91 victories or fewer in four of the last seven years. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year.”
Maybe not for a while.
The Cardinals, Reds and Pirates own three of the top four records in the majors on the strength of the top three pitching staffs in the majors.
All have relatively young cores and lineups built around an MVP (Joey Votto) or an MVP candidate (the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen and the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, who finished 3-4 in voting last year).
“It’ll be interesting to see over the years,” said pitcher Travis Wood, who will face his former team during the Cubs’ weekend series in Cincinnati. “With the guys [the Reds] have over there, I can only see them getting better.”
“That’s the thing,” Samardzija said. “You’ve got to build your team for [extended windows]. You can’t build them for just one season. You end up paying for that down the road with lack of prospects and older free agents.”
Samardzija might as well be reading from the Cubs’ handbook.
The process of building around a young, long-term core already figured to be a lengthy one, even before the rest of the division got there first.
“It’s hard,” Soriano said. “But at the same time, it’s exciting. If you want to be at the top, you have to beat the best.”