Sveum likes the fight for wild cards

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Sveum likes the fight for wild cards

MESA, Ariz. There are so many X-factors that will go into this before it really matters, but Cubs fans looking for signs of hope got one with the extra wild card.

Theo Epstein isnt wishing for a championship. The front office will rely on the cold, hard logic of advanced video analysis, scouting information systems, and research and development to find the next cutting edge.

But there are elements of luck and randomness in the postseason. It just got a little easier to get into the tournament. The two wild cards in each league will play an elimination Game 163.

Its not something (the historians) care for, manager Dale Sveum said. But things change over the years and the more teams you can get in the playoffs, the better. You can fight longer (as a team). The organization can fight longer and put you (in position with) a couple other teams in the running to make a trade at the deadline to pick things up.

I know its a little strange, the way its going to be done, but for the most part I think its good for baseball. Theres so much parity going on now in baseball. That extra team is great.

To finally hit that World Series target, general manager Jed Hoyer has used metaphors like taking shots on goal and having more arrows to fire. You just have to keep making the postseason.

The Cubs were surprised by the restrictions on the draft and international market imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. They cant spend unlimited amounts on those signings, which were supposed to lay the foundation for sustained success.

That development wont help clear the path to October, but the labor deal does set a lower bar for the playoffs. Looking back on the past 10 National League seasons, the second wild card would have averaged almost 89 victories. That includes multiple teams that finished in third place.

The agreement also moves the Houston Astros to the American League in 2013. In the past, Cubs officials had grumbled about the postseason odds of playing in a six-team division.

As much as the Cubs are cautiously optimistic about this season the rest of the division didnt get much better, and things cant get much worse than last year this change could really be felt in 2014 and beyond

Thats when Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are supposed to be established forces and emerging leaders. The scouting and player development machine will be rolling out an assembly line of impact players.

Sveum could be growing into the job and becoming the next Terry Francona. A renovated Wrigley Field and new television deals would be juicing the Cubs economy.

For now, the trade deadline got more complicated what happens with Matt Garza? and there will be more urgency to win the division. It shouldnt hurt ratings and ticket sales across the country.

Theres no such thing as a perfect setup that satisfies everyones interest, but I think they thought through it very well, Epstein said. Its going to certainly provide a guaranteed night of drama that we wouldnt have had otherwise. It will probably create more races than it takes away in the long run. Thats probably a good thing for the game.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

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David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."