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Cubs notebook: Maddon, Epstein back struggling Soler

Jorge Soler reacts after striking out against the San Diego Padres during the sixth inning during game two of a double header at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

When considered strictly by the numbers, there hasn’t been much not to like about the Cubs this season.

Heading into this weekend’s series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs had a winning percentage of .758 despite their first two-game losing streak they snapped with Friday’s 9-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

So in the midst of all the positives, the not-so-great statistical superlatives tend to stick out like a sore thumb. Enter struggling outfielder Jorge Soler, who entered Friday hitting .175 with two home runs, six RBI and 23 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances.

Despite the numbers, manager Joe Maddon refuses to be overly concerned with Soler, who was 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and a strikeout and who bumped his average up to .181 after Friday’s 9-4 win.

“When you’re attempting to develop young players, there’s a lot of patience involved,” Maddon said. “…I have a lot of faith in this kid. I think he’s going to be really good.

Like Maddon, Cubs President Theo Epstein was adamant in his support for Soler. Maddon said injuries have caused Soler’s development to be “spotty” and that Soler – despite his issues of late – has shown flashes of brilliance.”

Epstein pointed to Soler’s performance in the playoffs last season when he hit .474 with three home runs and five RBI in 19 postseason at-bats. Although his offensive success has yet to carry over to the start of this season, Epstein believes Soler in time will come around.

“(Reporters) are asking Joe, ‘What do you need to see from him so you don’t give up on him – that’s absurd,” Epstein said Friday. “If we had walked away from him last year, we probably don’t get out of the Cardinals series. He played a primary role in helping us win a couple of those games.

“That’s how good he’s capable of being and you need to invest in him him to get to that level.”

Central casting

Maddon refuses to make too much of the Cubs’ 14-2 record against Central Division rivals this season. Friday’s win improved the Cubs to 4-0 against the Pirates and kept improving on its best start ever against divisional opponents. The Cubs started 14-2 against NL West opponents in 2008, but winning in a division that includes the rival Pirates and Cardinals carries even more weight.

Except to Maddon.

“I wanted to see what we felt like against these teams on the field,” Maddon said. “I think up to this point, we’ve kind of passed that test. Moving forward – last year, we caught up to some folks – and you cannot permit that to happen. You’ve really got to maintain that level of focus and intensity.”

Montero close

Catcher Miguel Montero will return to the Cubs “any day now” after Montero was placed on the disabled list on April 24 with lower back tightness. In 13 games this season, Montero is hitting .208 with one home run and six RBI. “He’s ready roll,” Maddon said.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_