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updated: 9/8/2013 12:05 AM

Matt Spiegel: So much for all of this wild-card drama

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  • The Cubs' Starlin Castro, celebrating a home run against the Marlins last week, has shown signs of getting his offense back on track.

      The Cubs' Starlin Castro, celebrating a home run against the Marlins last week, has shown signs of getting his offense back on track.
    Associated Press

 
 

Thanks to Bud Selig's 24-hour blowout sale of forced drama, the pennant races are a little dull.

The only mystery in the National League is which of the three excellent Central division teams will be able to avoid the 1-game wild-card round. In the East and West, Atlanta and the Dodgers face no September threats, other than each other for a potential homefield advantage.

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In the AL, the Tigers probably can coast to the Central crown. Boston is absurdly hot right now and doesn't seem catchable in the East. Texas and Oakland will likely both get in, one as division champs and the other in the nine-inning postseason.

The AL's second wild-card team has our best chance for some fun. The Yankees, Orioles and Indians all are within striking distance of Tampa Bay for that last spot.

Distilling an organization's World Series dream into just those 27 outs is an event arranged for the TV partners and is supposed to be assuring more drama. This year it is not.

But we do have a chance that the one real remaining race could be great.

After Sunday, the Rays have 14 more games against teams with winning records, including Baltimore and New York in the final two weeks. The Orioles have 14 as well, the Yankees 11.

The Indians, meanwhile, have just six. All of those are Kansas City. Cleveland finishes with Houston, the White Sox and Minnesota. I know it's sad to see the White Sox in that context, but they're an eminently beatable mess.

Terry Francona already has a strong case for AL Manager of the Year. My ballot would have him behind John Farrell, Joe Girardi in a very weird Bronx season and maybe Bob Melvin.

Sneaking into that three-hour title shot might win it for Francona.

Castro's return:

We'd heard him say it, and I wrote it here a few weeks back: It was time for Starlin Castro to go back to being himself.

Well, he has. Since Aug. 23, Castro has at least 1 hit in 12 different games, and has a slash line of .304/.365/.482.

It is of course a tiny sample, and even if it continues through the month it will be too late to make this year look like anything less than a brutal one. But a strong finish would help toward re-establishing his confidence and value.

Theo Epstein, visiting with the "Hit and Run" show last week on WSCR 670-AM, let us in on a facet of their dilemma.

"Long ago we went up to Starlin and just asked him to clear your mind and listen to his own instincts as a hitter he is a feel hitter. He drifts a little forward to his swing. He doesn't sort of naturally pull the ball hard in the air and he just has to have that feel for the barrel and has to be feeling really good about himself to be able to hit the ball with backspin to the pull side, and that's fine."

Part of the organization's acceptance in Starlin being Starlin is admitting that he may never develop the consistent home run power they deem possible. Nor may he ever become a .400 on-base machine.

Is that acceptable for, say, a third baseman?

The next shortstop may be Wrigley-ready as soon as next spring. If Javier Baez has a great March and plays like he deserves the majors, the Cubs should let it happen.

And if Castro is asked to switch positions, will he be mentally strong enough to not have it affect him at the plate? We've seen the unfortunate inverse this season.

"I am very bullish on his future," Epstein said. "I just think we need the winter to get him straight."

Offensively, that process already has begun. But the Cubs' choices with him are far from done.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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