For Cubs fans, here's what to watch in September
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Will Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro reach 200 hits this season? It could happen. That's just one of the things to follow as the Cubs finish the final 25 games of the season.
It is now September. Do you know where your Cubs are?
For starters, they're back home to open a weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Other than that, they're going nowhere, not with a record of 59-78.
Cubs scouting report
Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field
TV: Comcast SportsNet Friday; WGN Saturday and Sunday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Ryan Dempster (10-10) vs. TBD Friday at 1:20 p.m.; Casey Coleman (2-7) Ross Ohlendorf (0-1) Saturday at 12:05 p.m.; Randy Wells (6-4) Charlie Morton (9-8) Sunday at 1:20 p.m.
At a glance: It was fun while it lasted for the Pirates, who held a share of first place in the NL Central as recently as July 24. The Pirates had fallen 12 games below .500 entering their game Thursday against the Dodgers. The Cubs are 7-6 against the Pirates, 2-4 at Wrigley Field. Neil Walker leads the Pirates in hits and average while Andrew McCutchen leads in homers, RBI and OBP. The Cubs' Aramis Ramirez has cooled of late, going 6-for-30 (.200) over the last week. Still, he has a hitting line of .305/.351/.514.
Next: Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, Monday-Wednesday
— Bruce Miles
But there are some things worth watching over the final 25 games of the season. Not the least of which will be team owner Tom Ricketts' search for a new general manager to replace Jim Hendry.
You know all the names that have been floated, from megastars such as Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein and Billy Beane to the wunderkind types such as Andrew Friedman and Josh Byrnes to the assistant-GM types such as Rick Hahn to the totally nontraditional, such as Kim Ng.
The Cubs would like their new man, or woman, to be in place sooner rather than later, what with organization meetings coming up in late October or early November followed closely by the GM meetings, free-agency signing season and the winter meetings.
Here are a few other things to watch.
Castro's hits pursuit:
Starlin Castro is bidding to become the first Cub to lead the National League in hits since Juan Pierre did it with 204 in 2006.
Castro has 173 hits, and entering Thursday, that put him well ahead of Atlanta's Michael Bourn (161), Los Angeles' Matt Kemp (160) and Cincinnati's Joey Votto (160).
Since coming to the big leagues in May 2010, Castro has 312 hits. He'll have to go some to reach 200, and he tweaked his right hamstring in Wednesday's series finale in San Francisco.
The Cubs brass will meet Friday morning to decide which minor-leaguers to call up now that rosters can be expanded from 25.
It remains doubtful that center-field phenom Brett Jackson will be called up from Class AAA Iowa. The Cubs' 40-man roster stands at 37, and the Cubs will have to reinstate pitcher Andrew Cashner after he comes off the 60-day disabled list, probably next week.
First baseman Bryan LaHair has been talked about as a call-up, and he's also not on the 40-man.
LaHair, who turns 29 in November, was named the Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League. He also was named to the all-PCL team and Iowa's MVP. On Tuesday, LaHair hit his 38th homer of the season to set an Iowa franchise record.
Now in his ninth season of pro ball, LaHair has 45 games of big-league experience, all with Seattle in 2008, when he hit 3 homers.
At Iowa, LaHair has an average/on-base/slugging line of .331/.405/.664 to go along with 109 RBI. He's the first Iowa player to be named MVP of the PCL since catcher Geovany Soto in 2007.
In case you're wondering, the Iowa home run record LaHair broke was set in 1984 by Joe Hicks, who never played in the major leagues.
It'll be interesting to see how much playing time LaHair gets if and when he's called up. Both LaHair and current first baseman Carlos Pena bat left-handed, and the Cubs and Pena are leaving the door open to Pena re-signing for next year. Pena is tied for the team lead in homers (24) with Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.
The Cubs are likely to bring up a few pitchers to work out of the bullpen. Lefty John Gaub is a candidate, as is right-hander Chris Carpenter, who was up with the Cubs briefly this year.
The one interesting position to watch will be catcher. Welington Castillo is on the DL at Iowa with a hamstring injury. Teams usually like to have three catchers in September, but if Castillo can't go, the Cubs may turn to left-handed hitting Steve Clevenger, who has a line of .319/.381/.472 with 8 homers in 116 games between Class AA Tennessee and Iowa this season.
Clevenger is not on the 40-man roster, but he has been to spring training with the Cubs.
The quest for 200:
The Cubs may be hard-pressed to have a starter on their staff work 200 innings this year. Ryan Dempster, who starts Friday's series opener against the Pirates, leads the team with 164⅓. It's possible Dempster could get 6 more starts.
Matt Garza has 158⅓ innings.
Dempster has worked at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. Garza did it in 2009 and 2010 with Tampa Bay.
• Follow Bruce's Cubs reports via Twitter@BruceMiles2112 and join the conversation on his Chicago's Inside Pitch blog at dailyherald.com.
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