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Casey Coleman’s status key item on Cubs’ late season to-do list

Casey Coleman (left) has two starts left remind Cubs promise he showed year ago.  | Andy Lyons~Getty Images

Casey Coleman (left) has two starts left to remind the Cubs of the promise he showed a year ago. | Andy Lyons~Getty Images

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Updated: November 10, 2011 10:30AM

CINCINNATI — If it sounded like the Cubs were howling at the moon Wednesday night in Cincinnati, it might have just been the barking of a few hundred dogs during the second bring-your-mutt promotion night they’ve seen already in the first six games of this trip.

But never mind what the opponents might have been trying to say by scheduling dog nights on Cubs dates. And forget for a moment that the Cubs followed two double-digit scoring efforts with three combined runs the last two nights in losses to the Reds — including 7-2 on Wednesday night.

With exactly two weeks left in the season, the Cubs still have plenty of business on the field to take care of — not the least of which is pitcher Casey Coleman’s work on his 2012 job status after another downbeat start Wednesday.

With two full turns left in the rotation, the Cubs don’t have any other viable starting options this month, which leaves Coleman (2-8, 7.06) two starts to remind the organization of the promise he showed a year ago.

“It’s just been a struggle for him, and you keep working with him, keep talking to him about the things he needs to do to be successful,’’ said manager Mike Quade of the kid who requires fine command to win — but who gave up three walks that all scored Wednesday.

“At this point you’ve just got to keep working with him and hope he gets better.’’

As for other compelling business facing the Cubs over the final 13 games of the season:

A WINNING SEPTEMBER: If the Cubs go 7-6 the rest of the way they’ll produce back-to-back winning months. Big deal? They haven’t done that since they had five winning months in their 97-win 2008 season.

“That’s really big as a club,’’ Quade said. “And if we’re going to do that, that’s going to mean the individuals on this team are going to finish strong.’’

For all the Cubs’ problems hitting and fielding this season, the reason for the finish is as simple as a pitching staff that ranked seventh at 3.74 in National League ERA in August and eighth at 3.82 this month (before Wednesday) — their first months of the season under 4.00 and above the midpoint rank in the league.

And that’s all about Ryan Dempster rebounding from a bad April, Randy Wells returning from a prolonged forearm injury to pitch well recently, and a general settling of a rotation that was in tatters early.

FOURTH DOWN? It’s not much, but the Cubs can avoid a second straight fifth-place finish in the ­National League Central if they can make up the two-game deficit on fourth-place Pittsburgh the final two weeks.

“I’d love to catch the Pirates, absolutely,’’ Quade said. “But I think we let that take care of itself. . . . Winning ballgames the rest of the way and playing well [is the goal].’’

HIT MAN COMETH: Kid shortstop Starlin Castro’s two hits Wednesday — his fifth multihit game in seven days — put him just eight shy of becoming the sixth-youngest player in history to reach 200 in a season, with a six-game homestand following tonight’s conclusion of the Cincinnati series.

“I’d like to do it at home,’’ he said.

RBI MAN COMETH, TOO: Aramis Ramirez needs just nine RBI for his seventh career 100-RBI season, first in three years, while closing in on the milestone as he plays what could be his final homestand as a Cub.

200 FOR DEMPSTER: Quade said he’ll use next week’s off day on the schedule to “tweak’’ his rotation to allow an extra start for Opening Day starter Dempster, who’s 161/3 innings shy of a fourth consecutive 200-inning season. It also gives Dempster (10-12) an outside shot at a winning record.

“I don’t pay attention to numbers a lot,’’ Quade said, “but I do the last couple of weeks. Whether it’s hitters, whether it’s pitchers — and good or bad — trying to get guys an opportunity to get to certain landmarks if at all possible.’’

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