Forget about the toasted ravioli in St. Louis this weekend when the Cubs are there to finish the season.
Today, get your bowls and spoons ready because we've got some heaping helpings of Theo Epstein five-alarm-bell chili to dish out.
Cubs scouting reportCubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium
TV: Comcast SportsNet Friday and Sunday; WGN Saturday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Travis Wood (9-11) vs. Lance Lynn (14-10) Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Edwin Jackson (8-17) vs. Joe Kelly (9-5) Saturday at 6:15 p.m.; Jeff Samardzija (8-12) vs. Adam Wainwright (18-9) Sunday at 1:15 p.m.
At a glance: The Cardinals lead the Pirates by 3 games with three to play, so their magic number to clinch the NL Central is 1. If the Cardinals clinch before Sunday, they may scratch Wainwright from that start and save him for the playoffs. The Cubs are 7-9 against the Cardinals this year, 3-4 in St. Louis. Despite ranking 13th in the NL with 122 home runs, the Cardinals lead the NL in runs scored (766). That may be because they lead in on-base percentage (.331). The Cubs are second with 171 home runs but are 12th in runs (600) and 14th in OBP (.302). Matt Carpenter leads a balanced Cards offensive attack with a line of .321/.394/.487, while Carlos Beltran has 24 homers, and Allen Craig has 97 RBI.
Next: Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, March 31, 2014
-- Bruce Miles
Last week Epstein said there were "no alarm bells to ring" when it comes to the status of manager Dale Sveum. All Epstein did was set off alarm bells, leading to much speculation about Sveum possibly being fired Monday.
But we won't stop with Sveum today. We'll take a look at a few situations and determine how many alarm bells they deserve, with one being a minor alarm and five being a call to crisis.
Get something cold to drink. This could get spicy.
Alarm bells needed: 5
The Cubs set a record by losing 50 games at Wrigley Field this year, the second season of Sveum's tenure. Heading into the weekend, they're 66-93 overall, and Sveum has one year left on his contract.
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said they are not judging Sveum on wins and losses. That's only fair since they're the ones who put together two of the worst team rosters in Cubs history and handed them to Sveum.
They are judging Sveum on things such as the development of young players, roster usage, the preparedness of the team, and other factors.
As with any manager, there are things you can criticize Sveum on. Young players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have not had the years expected of them. We'll see a truer picture of these two next year as far as how well they've made adjustments.
Sveum was criticized at times for his bullpen use, but only two relievers -- James Russell and Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon -- remain from the opening-day roster.
With the media, Sveum is neither an endearing figure nor a dislikable one. Give Epstein credit for being honest in his "we're evaluating everything" comment, but he turned Sveum into a sympathetic figure.
Most people don't like to see others twist in the wind even while knowing baseball is a cold business.
Alarm bells needed: 2
The 23-year-old shortstop has been under the microscope, fairly or unfairly, for the last three seasons.
He currently has a hitting line of .243/.283/.344. His 159 hits are a long way from the 207 he piled up in 2011 or the 183 he had last year.
But Castro is hitting the ball with more authority recently as he has gone back to the more aggressive approach that fueled success earlier in his young career.
His 2 errors Wednesday against Pittsburgh gave him 22 for the season, but that's down from the 27 he committed last year and the 29 he had in 2011. He is capable of inattentive play at times, but he seems to realize it.
A winter's rest and a clear head next spring should help.
Alarm bells needed: 2½
The first baseman's backers want to know how anyone could not like 22 home runs and 79 RBI in his first full season in the major leagues. His walk rate also has gone up, from 7.3 percent last season to 11.1 percent this season. Rizzo also plays solid defense.
Others say the hitting line of .232/.323/.415 needs to be better, especially considering Rizzo was at .285/.342/.463 last season.
In addition to his OPS falling from .805 last year to .738, his OPS-plus has dropped from 116 to 100, and his weighted on-base average (wOBA) has gone from .349 to .323.
As is the case with Castro, Rizzo has a long-term deal and much is expected of him as a "core" player. Next year should tell us whether he will trend more toward Joey Votto or more toward Carlos Pena.
Alarm bells needed: 3
It just so happens that the Cubs will send their top three pitchers against the Cardinals this weekend: Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija. Actually, if you were to rank them 1-3, it would be Wood-Samardzija-Jackson.
Wood is living proof that pitchers' win-loss records can be misleading if not meaningless. He is 9-11, but his ERA is 2.98 and his WHIP is 1.12.
Jackson has been a major disappointment, and Samardzija has been inconsistent, even as he has shown flashes of being very good. All three are expected to be at the top of the rotation next year.
The Cubs are likely to acquire at least one starting pitcher during the off-season, perhaps to trade if they fall out of contention again.
Also in the mix are swing man Carlos Villanueva, Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin. The Cubs also will take a look at prospect Kyle Hendricks in spring training. Hendricks is their minor-league pitcher of the year this season.
The Cubs do rank fifth in the National League with 90 quality starts, but questions remain about their starting-pitching picture.
•Follow Bruce's Cubs and baseball reports via Twitter@BruceMiles2112.