08/17/12 8:00 PM ET
Cubs find motivation in playing spoiler
By Mark Clements / MLB.com
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said there's always added adrenaline when facing the division leaders, especially this late in the season.
"At this time of year, when you're really not in the pennant race or not really looking forward to the postseason, when you do play the better teams, you do want to step it up," Sveum said. "You want to be spoilers, but at the same tone, you're just playing the game as hard as you possibly can. I'm just going by my nature, when I was out of the pennant races, these are the teams you really wanted to beat to help somebody out."
The Cubs are 3-6 against the Reds this season entering Friday's series opener, with a 1-1 record at Great American Ball Park, but Sveum naturally wants to even the count by series' end and make this a little more interesting in the National League Central.
Don't take it personally, Cincinnati.
"Not that you have anything against the Cincinnati Reds or whoever is in first place," Sveum said. "But that's one motivating factor is knocking people out the playoffs."
As contract talks continue, Castro looks to the future
CINCINNATI -- While Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and his agent negotiate off the field on a possible long-term contract extension, the two-time All-Star said he is keeping his focus on the diamond.
"It's very important," he said. "But I don't pay attention to that right now."
Castro is hitting .276 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs this season and has been one of the brighter spots for a rebuilding Cubs team that sat 24 games below .500 entering Friday night's clash with the Reds.
But the 22-year-old Dominican Republic native isn't the only thing Cubs fans have to look forward to in the years to come.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo, 23, second baseman Darwin Barney, 26, and third baseman Luis Valbuena, 26, help solidify a youthful infield and provide a recipe that Castro believes with bring success back to Chicago.
"You want to be on a very good team for the future and that's what I want to be," Castro said. "This team is going to be good and win games, [make the] playoffs, that kind of stuff. I want to be there. Everybody like me, Barney, Rizzo, we want those guys together to win games in the future with this team."
The Castro-Rizzo-Barney trio leads the Cubs infield in nearly every statistical category and provide a solidified group of young players the organization hopes to keep.
"You're always hoping for guys to step forward and be considered as core players," said Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Cubs. "That's what we want. We want all our guys to become indispensable parts of the core that can mature together and become the nucleus of a championship caliber team."
Raley called up to start in doubleheader
CINCINNATI -- With a day-night doubleheader slated for Saturday in Cincinnati, the Cubs and Reds will get their first opportunity to flex a new rule put in place by Major League Baseball that allows 26 active players on the roster for makeup game doubleheaders.
While the Reds are calling in a starter to make his big league debut, a familiar face in Brooks Raley will join the Cubs clubhouse Saturday and is schedule to start in the second half of the two-game affair.
"Because of the new rule, you have a luxury of having an extra guy. That's a nice rule they put in," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who added that preserving the bullpen is key during a doubleheader. "You go into it with eight guys in the bullpen, and you might let your starter go one extra inning than you might not do before."
Raley, a rookie, has already faced the Reds once this season on Sunday in Chicago, lasting six innings while giving three runs on five hits in a loss, receiving no run support.
Sveum is hoping Raley can repeat his performance from earlier this week, and combine with day game starter Jeff Samardzija to eat the majority of the innings on the mound.
"It's going to be a long day," Sveum said. "You have 18 innings to deal with. It's basically like you're playing in an 18-inning extra-inning game. You at least have two starting pitchers to suck up, hopefully, 12-14 of those innings."
Chicago's seven-game, six-day road trip, which began Friday in Cincinnati, is sandwiched between two off-days -- a luxury the club is using to its advantage.
"It helps a lot and knowing we have one at the end of this road trip helps a lot too," Sveum said. "The way you can do things and knowing that you basically have seven days in a row, you see what happens there."
Two of the hottest rookies will face each other this weekend in Cincinnati, with the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo and the Reds' Todd Frazier topping the NL rookies at the plate since June 26.
Since that mark, Rizzo leads all NL rookies with nine homers, ranks second with 25 RBIs and is fifth in batting average hitting .296.
In that same stretch, Frazier is leads the pack with 27 RBIs, ranks second with eight homers and sits third with a .302 average.
Both were in the starting lineup Friday.
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.