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Cubs manager Dale Sveum can evaluate players in September vs. contenders

Cubs third baseman Josh Vitters drops foul ball for an error second inning Saturday against Cardinals Wrigley. | David Banks~Getty

Cubs third baseman Josh Vitters drops a foul ball for an error in the second inning Saturday against the Cardinals at Wrigley. | David Banks~Getty Images

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:53AM

Evaluating players in spring training or in September can be dicey.

But this September is all about judging as the Cubs try to move forward for 2013.

‘‘When you’re playing people who are contending, you see how [players] are handling situations,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘You’re facing pitchers with stuff like Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright or Kyle Lohse. Or you’re facing good hitters. You get to evaluate against some of the best because contenders aren’t relying on call-ups.’’

Since the start of September, the Cubs have played the San Francisco Giants (going 1-2 against them), the National League East champion Washington Nationals (0-4), the Pittsburgh Pirates (5-2), the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds (0-3) and the wild-card-contending St. Louis Cardinals (1-1).

They didn’t match up well with the Nationals but played close games against the Reds. They dominated the Pirates, deflating their fading playoff hopes.

And they’re giving the Cardinals headaches this weekend with two extra-inning games that have forced manager Mike Matheny to go deep into his bullpen and bench.

Carlos Beltran’s home run in the ninth inning off Cubs closer Carlos Marmol rescued the Cardinals from another loss, and a double by Jon Jay in the 10th off rookie Jaye Chapman (0-1) pushed across the eventual winning run in St. Louis’ 5-4 victory.

But the Cards stranded 13 runners before it was over.

‘‘We’ve been in both games,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Win or lose, you don’t make it easy on anyone.’’

‘‘Especially when you’re playing contenders,’’ starter Travis Wood said. ‘‘You’re trying to knock teams out of the playoffs and trying not to lose 100 games.’’

The close games are giving Sveum and the front office a better measuring stick than a spring-training environment offers.

‘‘You’re evaluating how they handle situations — men on base with less than two outs, game-winning situations, two outs and two strikes,’’ Sveum said.

‘‘When it’s all said and done in September and October with everything on the line, you want players you can trust, so it’s nice to see guys in these situations.’’

Marmol, who had 19 consecutive saves before Saturday, said the attitude of the young players is another measure of potential.

‘‘We have a lot of good young players, and they’re playing hard, and that’s what the front office wants to see,’’ Marmol said.

‘‘We’re playing hard and don’t quit.’’

Marmol had not blown a save since April 24, also against the Cardinals, and he had not allowed a home run since the All-Star break.

It was only his third blown save.

Sveum used six relievers after Wood worked five innings.

NOTES: Three Cubs pitchers have picked up their first major-league victories on the homestand: Chris Rusin on Sept. 14 against Pittsburgh, Jeff Beliveau on Sept. 16 against Pittsburgh and Alberto Cabrera on Friday against St. Louis.

The Cubs have had three other pitchers get their first career victories this season: Rafael Dolis (April 23 against St. Louis), Scott Maine (now with the Cleveland Indians, who won on June 26 against the New York Mets) and Brooks Raley (Aug. 18 against Cincinnati).

Darwin Barney’s errorless streak at second base reached 137 games, four shy of the major-league record.

Sveum thinks Anthony Rizzo will become a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman.

‘‘The key to defense is not panicking and being able to slow the game down,’’ he said of Barney and Rizzo. ‘‘I call it the ‘no-heart-rate’ ability.’’

◆ Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina left the game during his at-bat in the ninth inning because of lower-back spasms.

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