by Matt Eurich

The 2012 Cubs season has been a struggle from the beginning.  Smart fans knew coming into the season that it was going to be a struggle and the Cubs have proven those fans right.  With a record below .400 with less than 40 games to go, it might seem like there is little reason to keep watching for the remainder of the season, but the future still hinges on what is going on in the present. Here are a few things to watch for in the final weeks of the season.

Young Pitching

Despite being sent down to Triple-A Iowa a day after earning his first major league win on Saturday against the Reds, Brooks Raley still figures to be part of the Cubs rotation moving forward.  Reports have indicated that Raley will likely be recalled to make start against the Colorado Rockies this weekend.  Raley struggled in his first two starts going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA but pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowing 3 runs on 5 hits Saturday against the Reds to get the win.  Raley will likely bounce back and forth between the majors and Triple-A until September 1st but the Cubs will be looking to see whether or not he can be a piece for the rotation moving forward.

Development of Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters

After the call-up of Anthony Rizzo in June, the next big splash for the organization was the call-ups of both Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.  Many questioned if the timing was right, with Jackson having struggled in the minors with strikeouts and Vitters being a question mark defensively.

Jackson continues to struggle with strikeouts, already striking out 24 times in 47 bats coming into Monday’s game against the Brewers.  Jackson is batting just .191 but hit his first major league homerun Saturday against the Reds.

Vitters hasn’t been given the opportunity to start every day, but he has also struggled at the plate, only getting three hits in 33 at-bats so far this season for a .091 average.

Both Jackson and Vitters will need to take the remainder of the season to prove that they deserve to remain on the major league roster for next season.  Neither player needs to light up the scoreboard moving forward, but if they can both show some improvement at the plate, it can give fans hope for two of the top prospects.

Starlin Castro’s Development

Last week I addressed the concern over Starlin Castro’s decline as a hitter and how fans should not get too concerned just yet.  The remaining seven weeks will go a long way in showing whether or not Castro is buying into the philosophies being taught by hitting coach James Rowson.

Rowson’s message has been that of patience and even though Castro has seen a minor increase in his base on balls, his batting average has suffered.  The final seven weeks will be a good time to see if Castro can find the perfect balance of knowing when to be patient at the plate and knowing when to be aggressive.  With an impending contract extension for the 22 year old in the works it will be interesting to see if Castro will find more or less pressure on his shoulders knowing he’ll be locked up until 2020.

September Call-Ups

On September 1st major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters from 25 to 40 in hopes of helping a team make a final push towards the playoffs or giving a struggling team the opportunity to look towards the future.

It is unknown who exactly will get called up for the Cubs on September 1st, but a vast majority will be players with prior major league experience.  The Cubs have already called up three of their top prospects this season (Rizzo, Jackson, Vitters) so it would not come as a surprise if there is a limit on the September call-ups.

Despite bringing up three prospects already and having Starlin Castro at shortstop ahead of him, the Cubs could possibly bring up highly regarded Double-A shortstop Junior Lake.  Lake has struggled defensively at shortstop and many see the outfield as his most likely position.  Calling up Lake may never happen with an already crowded outfield and the Cubs wanting Castro to play as much as possible, but some saw the Jackson/Vitters call-ups as a rushed move and they may do the same with Lake.

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