CHICAGO -- The Cubs are looking ahead to next year, but they're getting a feel for what it means to play important games in September.
Andrew McCutchen hit his 28th home run, Clint Barmes added a solo shot, and Garrett Jones drove in two runs to lift the Pirates to a 7-6 victory on Saturday over the Cubs, snapping a seven-game losing streak and keeping the team alive in the National League Wild Card race.
The Cubs did rally, scoring twice in the ninth against closer Joel Hanrahan, and had the bases loaded when Dave Sappelt struck out to end the game.
"It's a huge game for them," Chicago's Darwin Barney said. "It's fun for us to be in situations where we can play in games that mean something at this time of the year. We're trying to steal as many as we can from these guys."
Jason Berken (0-1), acquired off waivers from the Orioles eight days ago, took the loss in his Cubs debut. He's the 53rd player used by the team this season, a club record, and the 12th starting pitcher. The right-hander is one of many hoping for a job next season.
"It's an opportunity for these guys," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "If everything stayed pat and everyone stayed healthy, we wouldn't have gotten to see some of our guys like [Chris] Rusin and [Brooks] Raley, or to be able to get some of these guys on waivers. The more pitchers you can get in an organization who have pitched in the big leagues or are capable of it, it creates competition in Spring Training and gives us a lot of different people to look at.
"I don't know if you want to call it a tryout camp, but it's definitely a lot of opportunity for these guys."
What the Cubs hope is that, in the final weeks, the pitchers have something to build on. Sveum said pitchers like Travis Wood and Chris Volstad have learned more about how to pitch this year.
"The ability is there," Sveum said. "It's just a matter of how do you get through these lineups and avoid big innings."
So far, the pitchers and catchers have accepted the game plan, Sveum said. For example, if the scouting report shows someone is 0-for-33 against curveballs, throw curveballs. It seems basic, but some still tend to ad-lib.
"That's the human element, and that comes into play," Sveum said.
Berken is still getting to know his teammates. A native of Green Bay, Wis., who grew up a Cubs fan, the right-hander lasted four innings and gave up six runs (two earned) on eight hits in his first game ever at Wrigley Field.
"I need to get better, I have to get better, I will get better," said Berken, who left tickets for about 30 family and friends, and had another 10 to 15 more people in the crowd of 32,774.
The Pirates, trying to finish above .500, took advantage of an error in the first. Berken hit Starling Marte with a pitch, and he moved up on a throwing error by catcher Welington Castillo before scoring on Jones' sacrifice fly. Rod Barajas hit an RBI single in the second and McCutchen made it, 3-0, with a leadoff home run in the third.
Anthony Rizzo hit an RBI single in the Chicago third off Wandy Rodriguez (11-13), but a throwing error by Josh Vitters in the Pirates fourth set up an RBI triple by Marte, a run-scoring single by Travis Snider, and an RBI double by Jones.
"He was a victim of a couple errors," Sveum said of Berken.
Alfonso Soriano hit an RBI single in the two-run fifth to help Chicago close to 6-3. After Barmes' home run in the seventh, pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena hit an RBI single in the eighth, which set up the mini rally in the ninth.
"They don't give up," Hanrahan said of the Cubs. "They've got a goal for them, too. I read somewhere they're trying not to get 100 losses -- and I've been in that situation, unfortunately, a couple years. You don't want to hit 100 losses, so they're not giving up."
The Cubs need to win six of their remaining 17 games to avoid a 100-loss season, which would be their first since 1966.
"We want to finish strong," Soriano said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.