SAN DIEGO — Dale Sveum always says it shouldn't matter where a player hits in the order.
But much has been made over this week about Sveum's decision to bat struggling cornerstone players Starlin Castro (.237 average) and Anthony Rizzo (.230) first and second, respectively.
[MORE: All eyes on Castro and Rizzo]
Sveum wrote out the lineup card with the two young stars atop the order for the third straight day Friday against the Padres. They responded by jump-starting the offense during a six-run rally in the first inning, but struggled the rest of the way as the Cubs bats were silenced in an 8-6 loss to San Diego.
"It worked for one day," Sveum said. "I wasn't going to change it [Thursday]."
A day after he hit eighth in the Cubs lineup, Castro responded to the boost from his manager with a single and a run Wednesday night against the Nationals. Rizzo was even better, with three hits, including two homers — his 19th and 20th of the season — three RBI and a walk.
Neither player tallied a hit in Thursday's marathon finale with Washington, combining for just one walk in 12 trips to the plate.
But Sveum attributes that more to the quality of pitching the Cubs were up against, having to face Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg and a collection of relievers from a good bullpen.
"We were fortunate to score four earned runs off him in nine innings," Sveum said of Strasburg. "You don't look too far into (an 0-for-5 or 0-for-6 day at the plate like Castro and Rizzo had). Hopefully those guys don't, either.
"We've run into the better teams and the better pitching staffs in the league in the last two, three weeks. Like I've said before, this is the best pitching I've seen in my 30 years in baseball."
Despite the rough outing, Sveum had no hesitation putting Castro and Rizzo first and second again. And why would he?
As the Cubs careen toward 90 losses, the focus is squarely on Castro and Rizzo. While Javier Baez continues his power surge in the minors (now up to 34 homers in 120 games), the Cubs' offensive reinforcements will only consist of veterans Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena, who are both currently rehabbing in Arizona.
When the rosters expand in September, third baseman Mike Olt might be one of the only new bats to enter the Cubs clubhouse, and the former top Rangers prospect is still hitting just .121 for Triple-A Iowa in what has become a nightmare season for the soon-to-be 25-year-old.
With just over five weeks left in the season, maybe a consistent spot in the order will help Casto and Rizzo. If nothing else, they'll continue to see the most at-bats of any Cubs hitter as they try to work out of their respective funks.