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Cubs still worth wondering about, starting with Sveum question

Chicago Cubs v ArizonDiamondbacks

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks

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friday

CUBS AT CARDINALS

The facts: 7:15 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.

The starters: Travis Wood (9-11, 2.98 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (14-10, 4.09).

the rest of the series

Saturday: 6:15 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74) vs. Joe Kelly (9-5, 2.81).

Sunday: 1:15 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.33) vs. Adam Wainwright (18-9, 3.01).

Updated: September 26, 2013 10:40PM



Little doubt remains about just how bad and just how far from contending these Cubs are with three games left in their season. But plenty of questions linger:

Are these the final three games of manager Dale Sveum’s Cubs career?

Friday is Day 11 of the Sveum Hot Seat Watch. It began with team president Theo Epstein’s carefully worded, non-committal answer after specifically being asked if Sveum would return for the third year of his contract.

Since then, potential star-power free agents Joe Girardi, Mike Scioscia and Ron Gardenhire have been linked by media speculation to a Cubs job opening that doesn’t exist yet.

Some industry sources believe Girardi, the Peoria native and former Cub, has sent back-channel signals that he’d be interested in exploring a return home. It’s been seven years since he lost out on the Cubs job to Lou Piniella, despite strong support from several high-ranking front-office officials.

Sveum has projected a cool exterior through his sudden lame-duck status, though he admitted Wednesday to some anxiety as he wonders what he’ll be told Monday.

Who survives the winter from the coaching staff?

Even if Sveum is back, it seems certain that at least a minor shake-up looms after a season in which the young hitters struggled more than improved.

Anthony Rizzo, the building-block first baseman the Cubs signed to a seven-year deal in May, cringes at the idea.

‘‘The staff’s great,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘From Dale to our bullpen catcher [Andy Lane], up and down, they’ve been really good this year. We’ve hit our bumps along the road, so at the same time it’s a business. It’s out of any player’s hands and even coaches’ hands, as well.’’

Who is Darnell McDonald?

Once rated higher as an amateur hitter than any of the Baezes or Bryants in the Cubs’ system, the soft-spoken outfielder found a place in Cubs fans’ consciousness six weeks after joining the team when he doubled twice and hit a decisive three-run homer in the home finale Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Even though he turns 35 in November, McDonald could be a unique part of the rebuilding process as a seen-it-all influence on younger players.

One of the most prolific running backs in Colorado high school history, McDonald turned down a football scholarship from Texas to sign with the Baltimore Orioles. He was the 26th overall pick in the 1997 draft. He fell from the top five only because of his football intentions.

Since then, he has played in seven organizations, mostly in the minors, though he played partial seasons for six big-league teams, including Epstein’s Boston Red Sox (2010-12) and the New York Yankees late last season.

McDonald, who was signed as a minor-league free agent last winter, said he wants to stick around next year.

Who is Jeff Samardzija?

The Cubs’ Opening Day starter gets one more start to influence the answer in the season finale Sunday, but he’ll remain an enigma as he restarts talks on a potential long-term contract.

At times, Samardzija has pitched like the front-line starter his bosses and his stuff suggest he is. But he has allowed at least five earned runs eight times and has surrendered at least four walks nine times. The Cubs have lost 19 of his 32 starts.

On the other hand, Samardzija is one of only nine pitchers in the major leagues with 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. Four of them are Cy Young winners and another (Max Scherzer) could become one this year.

Will the Cubs become the first team in history to watch three opponents celebrate clinchers against them?

The Atlanta Braves (National League East) and Pirates (NL wild card) already did that at Wrigley Field on Sunday and Monday, respectively. The St. Louis Cardinals could clinch the NL Central on Friday at Busch Stadium.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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