PITTSBURGH — The Cubs are about to find out how they measure up to the dynasty that produced three World Series titles within the last five seasons.
The San Francisco Giants did it with their pitching-and-defense formula, some clutch hitting and the guts to win 34 playoff games since 2010. Their front office also had a knack for identifying and acquiring the right players at the trade deadline.
The Cubs didn’t get great pitching from Dan Haren or the bullpen or airtight infield defense during Wednesday night’s 7-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. A young team didn’t play with razor-sharp focus, ending a six-game winning streak and making the kind of mistakes that kill you in October.
The Giants will be the next test as the Cubs open a four-game series against the defending World Series champions on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, beginning a stretch of 19 consecutive days in Chicago, where the buzz around the team keeps building.
“I can’t wait to see what Wrigley is like this weekend with the series we got coming up,” said Anthony Rizzo, who went 12-for-23 with four homers and 10 RBIs during this six-game road trip. “I feel like (with) every win we’ve had there, it’s just really getting louder and louder. I expect no different this weekend.”
The Cubs (58-48) didn’t see Haren as their first choice or a long-term solution. But Haren has a bulldog reputation, and the Cubs needed someone to keep them in games, preventing the fifth-starter spot from becoming a black hole.
Haren — acquired from the Miami Marlins in the final hours before the July 31 deadline — watched Gregory Polanco drill his fourth pitch in a Cubs uniform out to the right-field seats for a leadoff homer.
Andrew McCutchen hammered another Haren pitch that bounced off the green batter’s eye in center field in the third inning. But that will happen when your Twitter handle is @ithrow88.
“I’m glad that’s out of the way,” said Haren, who lasted five innings and gave up four runs, three earned in a no-decision. “I’ve got to obviously be a lot better than that to help this team. It’s over and done with.”
Haren needs his defense to make plays behind him. Kris Bryant’s fielding error extended the first inning when a groundball bounced off the third baseman’s glove.
The Cubs had put on a shift in the fifth inning when Bryant and Starlin Castro got crossed up on another ball hit to the left side of the infield, allowing a chopper to skip past them to make it a 4-1 game.
“I think Kris will tell you he probably should have gotten it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s the first guy across. That’s the guy that normally is going to get it, and the shortstop normally backs up.
“I think there was confusion based on the alignment. Sometimes, they’re just not used to it. The ball was hit at a speed and in a spot that just messed them up. Our young guys will get it right. But this was one of those moments that was very awkward.”
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The Pirates (62-44) would be in position to host the wild-card game if the season ended tomorrow. The Giants (59-48) moved to a half-game ahead of the Cubs in the race for the second wild card with their 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
It should be a wild weekend in Wrigleyville.
“It’s obviously important to find your stride at this point of the season,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “We need to keep it rolling as long as we can, because we know that the Cardinals aren’t slowing down and (the Pirates) aren’t either.
“It’s our job to just continue to put the pressure on ‘em — and let ‘em know we’re coming.”