Seven games behind the Rockies with 28 to play, the Cubs still maintain hope of making the postseason for the third consecutive year. At the same time, the team hopes to take advantage of the final month to evaluate some younger players.
To that end, the Cubs called up right-handed pitcher Esmailin Caridad from Triple-A Iowa before Sunday's game against the Mets at Citi Field.
The 25-year-old Caridad was 5-10 with a 4.17 ERA as a starter for Iowa. Caridad appeared in three games earlier this season with the Cubs, allowing four runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings.
Caridad has excelled this season against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .223 average. Lefties, on the other hand, are hitting .336 off him.
Despite that last number and his current role in the bullpen, manager Lou Piniella said he would like to give Caridad a spot start before season's end.
"I wouldn't be surprised if sometime this month we give him a spot start or two," Piniella said. "Take a look at him."
Piniella said the same thing about Jeff Samardzija, who made one start last month before being sent back down to Iowa. Samardzija lasted just 3 1/3 innings and surrendered seven runs in a loss to the Phillies.
One year after posting a 2.28 ERA in 26 appearances for Chicago, Samardzija has a 7.81 ERA in 17 games. He has allowed 17 more earned runs this year in the same number of innings as 2008. Samardzija is 6-5 with a 4.06 ERA for Iowa.
"I think it would behoove us to take a look at these young guys in the rotation a little bit," Piniella said. "If we have a situation where we need to skip somebody because of a minor injury or rest, we can add a pitcher to the rotation."
It might be tough to find that slot in the rotation, which has been the team's strong point recently. Their starters have allowed just two earned runs in their past 32 2/3 innings over five games. That's a 0.55 ERA the most recent trip through the rotation.
Rich Harden added to that on Saturday, allowing one earned run and striking out 10 batters in five innings in Chicago's 5-3 win over the Mets.
It's all part of that last-month balancing act for Piniella, who hopes to look at some young players while still pushing for a playoff berth. At 68-66, the Cubs entered Sunday 11 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central and seven behind the Rockies in the National League Wild Card race, with three other teams in between them and Colorado.
That's why the Cubs have yet to rule out a return from left fielder Alfonso Soriano this season. Soriano missed his third consecutive game and seventh in the past nine on Sunday with a sore left knee. While Soriano knows surgery is in his future, he hopes to delay it until the offseason. Piniella said there's no advantage to having the surgery now.
"It's not a major thing. It's more of a cleaning out than anything else," the manager said. "It won't take all that long to heal."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.