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Cubs have long way to go in tough division

CHICAGO -- The Cubs ended their home season on a positive note, putting a crimp into Pittsburgh’s quest for a division title. The Pirates, who clinched a playoff berth with a win Monday, are on the verge of being eliminated from the division race after losing 4-2 to the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon.

With three playoff teams in the NL Central, the Cubs know what an uphill battle they have to become one of the elite teams in baseball.

"We have a very tough division," Anthony Rizzo said after Wednesday's victory over 16-game winner Francisco Liriano. "We want to play good baseball in St. Louis and go into the winter on a high note."

Rizzo and company will be faced with the third clinching celebration against them in less than a week Friday. Any Cardinals win or Pittsburgh loss over the last three games of the season will give St. Louis the division title.

Atlanta, Pittsburgh and soon St. Louis will have clinched against the hapless also-rans, which begs the question, how long will it be until the Cubs are competing for something relevant?

"The bar is set now," Rizzo said. "Those teams are young, and they are not going anywhere for years to come. We need to step our game up all around and continue grow as a team and as people."

The harsh reality is playing the best teams in baseball 77 times a season will test the Cubs and their resolve for years to come.

"Record-wise, we have the top three teams (in our division)," manager Dale Sveum said. "They all have 90-plus wins, the pitching from these top three teams is good as there is in baseball...That is where everything starts."

The Cubs ended their home season tying for the fewest wins with the 1957 club (31). They also have the dubious distinction of having lost the most home games in franchise history (50).