ST. LOUIS -- Alfonso Soriano may not hit 40 homers again in a season or steal 40 bases but he definitely has fun playing the game.
Go back to the Sept. 15 game in Cincinnati. It was the ninth inning, and the Cubs trailed, 6-4. Tony Campana pinch-hit to lead off and singled. Mike Quade was trying to decide who to use next, waiting to see what Reds manager Dusty Baker might counter with if Campana got on. Soriano was in the tunnel.
"I can hear him, 'I think I got him, babe. I'm feeling good,'" Quade said prior to a 2-1 loss Saturday, relaying the story. "He's the right guy to be able to do that for me. I'm hearing that and it's being said loud enough so I can hear it."
Soriano, 35, did step in, and delivered a pinch-hit RBI double and eventually scored the tying run.
When he got back to the dugout, he pointed at Quade and said, "Good decision, man, good decision."
"Obviously, he's not the guy he was 10 years ago, but I can see where the fun that he has when he was that guy was really something special," Quade said. "When he first got here was a pretty impressive year, too. He finds a way to contribute."
It helps that Soriano not only keeps things relaxed but also has taken an active role as a mentor to Starlin Castro.
"He's as loose and as much fun to be around right now as anybody on this club," Quade said. "He's always been that guy, but he's louder now. 'Cassie's' right. It's always been a part of 'Sori' but it's been as good as I've ever seen it lately. He keeps everybody loose."
Soriano hit his 25th homer Friday, a go-ahead three-run shot in the eighth that helped the Cubs beat the Cardinals, 5-1. His RBI in the first inning on Saturday gave him 27 in his last 28 games. And he's stepped up to help not just at the plate.
"There are different styles of leadership," Quade said. "Some guys are the [tough] stern guys and some guys keep guys loose. 'Sori' has always shown up to work hard and had fun playing. ... He comes back with the same outlook and same smile every day and that matters. As important as it is to do a good job, part of this deal is to have fun.
"'Sori' has been on top of his game," he said.
Castro off to flying start, but league adjusting
ST. LOUIS -- It's only his first full season in the big leagues, but Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has set the bar high for his career.
In 2010, he hit three homers and batted .300; on Friday, he became the youngest Cubs player ever to total 200 hits. He went 1-for-4 in a 2-1 loss Saturday, finishing play with 10 homers and a .307 average.
Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said he wouldn't be surprised if Castro's power increases each season. After Castro notched No. 10 this year, Jaramillo joked with the shortstop about finally reaching double digits.
"In his mind, he thinks he's a 20-home run hitter," Jaramillo said Saturday.
Can Castro do that?
"No doubt about it, no doubt," Jaramillo said. "The time will come. I don't want him thinking about those things. I want him just to play the game. His strength is right-center and that's what he likes for his approach to be."
Castro has batted leadoff most of this season, but there's been talk about eventually moving him to third in the order. Jaramillo likes that Castro said he wants to hit second.
"He'll get on base, he's got the power to hit the ball the other way," Jaramillo said. "[Where he hits] is [manager Mike] Quade's decision.
"Now Castro has to learn because they're starting to know who he is, and they're not going to give you a fastball every time you get ahead in the count," Jaramillo said. "He's going to have to change his approach a little bit to make that adjustment. He's got to clean up 3-1, 3-2 [in the count] and then his walks will go up and his strikeouts will go down."
Castro said the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter did pitch him differently on Friday than he did earlier in the season.
"The league is trying to make adjustments on him and he's trying to make adjustments back," Jaramillo said.
So, if Castro averages 200 hits for 15 seasons, he could total 3,000. Jaramillo laughed. The Cubs' all-time hits leader is Ernie Banks with 2,583 hits.
"Get [Castro] one year at a time and let him progress and see what comes out," Jaramillo said.
Starting pitching keying Cubs' late charge
ST. LOUIS -- How important is starting pitching? In the Cubs' last eight games, they've gotten seven quality starts and are 5-2 with a 1.93 ERA. Remove the one non-quality start, and the ERA drops to 1.14.
Rodrigo Lopez was the latest Cubs hurler to throw an excellent outing when he tossed six shutout innings in a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday.
"Looking at the last four, five games, starting pitching gives you a chance," Cubs manager Mike Quade said, "and we've gotten a lot of good starting pitching the last week. That's why we've been able to give Milwaukee and [the Cardinals] trouble. We've scored runs and played good defensively. It makes a world of difference."
However, the individual may not enjoy the same success. Ryan Dempster has posted five quality starts in his last five games but is winless.
"We've been in position to win games a lot more recently," Quade said. "From an individual standpoint, obviously, you feel bad if he pitches well and doesn't get credit, but if we win the game, that's most important. 'Demp' didn't get a win last night but he got one with me and with us."
Dempster will get a chance at one more win in the season finale on Wednesday against the Padres.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.