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Cubs face test this week vs. Wild Card foes

Series against Pirates and Giants are key for young club

MILWAUKEE -- If the Cubs want to gain some ground in the Wild Card race, this week will be a good time to do so as they face both the Pirates and Giants, the two teams ahead of them. Manager Joe Maddon sticks to a "one day at a time" approach. The Pirates and Giants both have postseason experience, something the young Cubs don't have.

"There's definitely an advantage -- 'been there done that,' no question," Maddon said Sunday. "But at the same time, you have a bunch of hungry guys coming on which can be, in and of itself, a good position to be in."

The Cubs face the Pirates in a three-game series, starting Monday.

"To really ascend in the division, you have to play the better teams within your group and beat them, and to beat them where they live is important also," Maddon said.

Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, who will open the four-game series against the Giants at Wrigley Field on Thursday, also preaches staying constant.

"That's part of the learning process with the young guys is to not look too far ahead and not focus on scoreboard watching," Hammel said. "A week ago, we got swept by [the Phillies] who are 15, 20 games under .500. It's baseball -- you can't take things for granted and the whole idea of taking one pitch at a time, one game at a time is why teams win and get to the playoffs. It's the idea of not getting ahead of yourself and not getting too down on yourself. You have to keep an even keel."

Extra bases

Miguel Montero, who has been on the disabled list since July 12 with a sprained left thumb, began a rehab assignment Sunday with Double-A Tennessee. When he returns, the Cubs will keep three catchers in Montero, David Ross and rookie Kyle Schwarber. How they'll get enough playing time is to be determined, Maddon said.

"The challenge will be to keep Schwarb's bat in the lineup as often as possible," Maddon said.

Schwarber has played some left field, which is an option. Montero wasn't too thrilled about the rehab assignment but Maddon said it was necessary and will most likely be for three games.

"It's one thing to catch bullpens but there's nothing like an actual game of baseball, any game, at game speed to really be tested," Maddon said. "Go test it, see if the thumb holds up behind the plate, at the plate. If it does, I don't think it will take him long to get back here."

• Left-handed pitcher Clayton Richard was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to start Sunday, and catcher Taylor Teagarden was designated for assignment. Richard will be off the Cubs' roster after the game -- they acquired starter Dan Haren from the Marlins to fill the fifth spot. The Cubs will likely add a right-handed hitter for the series against the Pirates, but it wasn't expected to be infielder Javier Baez.

"The message I'm hearing is guys want to make sure he gets it going," Maddon said of Baez, who missed time because of a fractured finger. "Obviously, if there's an injury it could accelerate [his callup]. I think our guys are comfortable with the work he's getting and progress he's making."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.
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