September will be the Cubs’ October
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter September 8, 2013 6:54PM
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Updated: September 8, 2013 11:03PM
October is about to start for the Cubs.
The calendar will say it’s September, but the only playoff-type baseball they will experience comes in the next three weeks as they play 13 of their last 20 games against the National League Central-contending Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
The NL West-dominating Atlanta Braves will stop at Wrigley Field for three games as well — and might end up holding their division-clinching celebration here.
The Cubs can only hope to learn from the atmosphere that surrounds contending teams.
‘‘It’s good for everybody to see and play in those atmospheres because it’s different,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘It’s going to be fun with the atmosphere in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. You’re getting to that playoff-type atmosphere when you’re trying to win a division, and it’s going still possibly going to be the same when we get to St. Louis [at the end of season].’’
Playing contenders could affect decisions such as how pitcher Scott Baker will figure into the remaining games.
His return to a major-league mound Sunday for his first start in almost two seasons went well for him — if not for the Cubs in a 3-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers won the weekend series, keeping them ahead of the last-place Cubs in the NL Central.
‘‘He did a great job,’’ Sveum said of Baker, who threw 55 pitches in five innings of no run, two-hit ball. ‘‘He was better than in his minor-league games. He showed more life on his pitches.’’
Baker was the pitcher of record when the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the fifth on Junior Lake’s sixth homer of the season leading off the inning. He might have pitched longer had his spot not come up in the batting order later in the fifth.
His next assignment is unclear.
‘‘Right now, beggars can’t be choosers,’’ Baker said. ‘‘I’m very thankful they gave me the opportunity to start. They left it up to me if I wanted to continue this process.
‘‘Physically, I’ve been feeling a little stronger each time out. I don’t know what’s next, but I’ll prepare the next five days. We’ll see if it’s another start or just innings [in relief].’’
Baker became the 33rd player to make his Cubs debut this season and the 31st pitcher used by the team this season, surpassing the franchise mark of 30 set last year.