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100th loss looms for Cubs

CHICAGO – The magic number is 100.

Forget playoff dreams or a run at a .500 record – those hopes were dashed months ago. All that’s left for the Cubs is avoiding the dreaded 100-loss season.

No Cubs team has lost 100 games since they racked up 103 losses in 1966 to tie the franchise record, originally set in 1962. The Cubs (58-90) won’t have an easy road in the final 14 games after losing to the Cincinnati Reds, 3-0, Tuesday. They’re in the middle of a stretch of 10 games in 10 days against playoff contenders.

Finishing strong remains the Cubs’ focus, but they have their work cut out to stay out of the record book of becoming the third team in franchise history to lose 100 games. The Cubs need to go 5-9 (.357 winning percentage), and based on their current winning percentage (.392) they’re in position to just miss the century mark.

“Take care of business and let’s worry about tomorrow and win a game,” second baseman Darwin Barney said. “ … Our concern is winning games and trying to spoil anybody’s opportunity to do that.”

After a four-game weekend series against Pittsburgh and finishing their three-game set against Cincinnati, the St. Louis Cardinals arrive to at Wrigley Field trying to lock up a wild card spot.

“It’s not like I have a meeting every day [to talk about] playing contenders,” manager Dale Sveum said. “We’ve talked about it in the stretch coming into this stretch, but the bottom line is going out there every day for us is a battle. These guys are trying to stay away from 100 losses as much as anything.”

The division-leading Reds can clinch the NL Central Thursday with a sweep and a little help from the Houston Astros, who plays second-place St. Louis. These games, though they hold no true meaning for the Cubs, offer pitchers and hitters alike a chance to see how they stack up against the league’s best.

“It’s a great lineup there and to be able to keep them off balance for the five innings is definitely something to build off of and take into St. Louis,” Tuesday’s starter Justin Germano said.

While the Cubs’ starting rotation in the coming days reads more like a spring training invitee list, the offense will be facing some of the league’s best pitchers. That includes the trio of Reds’ Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto and Cardinals’ right-handers Chris Carpenter (making his season debut) and Adam Wainwright.

Some Cubs, including Barney, are fighting to prove to the front office they belong in the starting lineup in 2013 and beyond. Sveum said there is no question Barney deserves to be considered among the organization’s core players for the future alongside shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

“When you put a guy that catches the ball like that and changes game with defense – sometimes there’s no difference of changing a game with your defense as your offense and he’s definitely saved runs and changed baseball games with his defense,” Sveum said.

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