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Reasons to keep watching Cubs hardly flatter moribund team

Left fielder Blake DeWitt  shortstop StarlCastro  attempt field base hit during game against PhiladelphiPhillies Sunday. | Getty Images

Left fielder Blake DeWitt and shortstop Starlin Castro attempt to field a base hit during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. | Getty Images

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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:41AM



PHILADELPHIA — Now what?

Fourteen games under .500 with 98 to play, and the only thing that looks more daunting for the Cubs than the road trip they just finished is the homestand that awaits.

Sure, they’ll get Jeff Baker back from the disabled list today and possibly Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano by Wednesday. But Kerry Wood (finger blister) could be headed the other way on the DL carousel, and the rotation seems to be stuck too often on the five-inning mark to offer the bullpen any relief.

‘‘No one said it was going to be easy,’’ manager Mike Quade said. ‘‘Yeah, this is a heck of a run we’re on. Milwaukee’s probably playing the best baseball in the National League right now.’’

The Brewers visit Wrigley Field for four games before the New York Yankees come in for three. Then the Cubs will spend three days on the South Side and return to the dugout that has provided some of their worst nightmares in recent years.

So what’s in it for the fans? What’s left to watch, much less worth buying an overpriced ticket and more overpriced beer to see firsthand?

Maybe not much next month or beyond. But for the next 10 days or so, there might be at least a few reasons beyond train-wreck curiosity to pay attention:

The Hug, Part II?

The Brewers’ Prince Fielder, the other big free-agent first baseman the Cubs won’t spend the money on next offseason, probably won’t get the hug from general manager Jim Hendry that Albert Pujols did. But his only trip to Wrigley this season before the Cubs are mathematically eliminated in September offers four days to dream of the possibilities, salivate a little or maybe just steam.

The NL Central race

If you think the Brewers’ battle for first place with the St. Louis Cardinals is getting hot, check out how fast the Cubs have closed in on the Houston Astros at the other end of the division. Already at opposite ends of the division in market size, the Brewers and Cubs might book-end the standings in a few days if the Cubs’ pitching doesn’t improve.

Where’s Waldo — and/or Ricketts?

The Cubs’ chairman has been more elusive to the media as the cries have grown louder for answers to the roster woes. If he’s able to continue to dodge reporters during the homestand, fans might get the best chance to demand their own answers on one of Ricketts’ strolls during a game. Feel free to share the conversation via e-mail to gwittenmyer@suntimes.com.

Z vs. The Cell

Look who’s scheduled to start the series opener against the White Sox next week. The same guy who was given a suspension and anger-management therapy after his last start there, almost a year to the day. It was the second consecutive year in which a Cub was kicked out of the series opener at the Cell by then-manager Lou Piniella after an emotional outburst (Milton Bradley greased the skids for his eventual exit in ’09). To be fair, Carlos Zambrano has been a different pitcher on the mound and seemed to be a different man off it since the therapy. But he has shown cracks in the veneer in the last week. Then, again, who knows? Maybe it’ll be Casey Coleman who goes off this time.

No. 3,000

The look of a champion? Hall of Fame pedigree? Bling? Wrigley Field offers all of those rare local sights when the Yankees visit — with Derek Jeter possibly at the threshold of career hit No. 3,000. The Yankees captain opens the week seven shy of the milestone hit, with four games before the series opener Friday.

No. 3

The Cubs have losing streaks of eight, four and three (twice) games, but they are the last team in the majors still looking for a three-game winning streak. Even last year they had four at this point in the season, including two that reached four games. Could this be the week that . . . on second thought, never mind.



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