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Sports Saturday

30 keys in final 30 days for Cubs down stretch

How pizza, Red Bull, “The Kaplan,” bubble wrap, Crane Kenney and cheese can win the NL Central for the Cubs.

Ted Cruz Campaigns In Wisconsin One Day Before State Primary Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images

As Cole Hamels takes the mound Saturday against the Brewers, the Cubs have exactly 30 days left to try to extend their season into the playoffs.

The 30 things they need to do or have go their way in those 28 games and two off days:

1. First thing’s first. Literally. The Cubs have the worst leadoff on-base percentage in the majors (.282 through Thursday), and the returns of Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora (vs. left-handers) Sunday when rosters expand offer the last chance to find the right formula while it can still make a difference.

2. Say hey to Willy – and fast. Catcher Willson Contreras won’t be back from a hamstring injury in time for Jon Lester’s next start Tuesday, but his desperately needed All-Star bat could be back for next weekend’s big series in Milwaukee.

3. Include Dave “The” Kaplan in daily strategy work with starting pitchers.

4. Keep the pizza oven hot for Jose Quintana. With all due respect to Yu Darvish, no pitcher has been more effective for this team since he “ordered” a pizza from a dugout wise guy on a call from the bullpen the day before his June 29 start in Cincinnati (8-1, 3.08 ERA in 11 starts).

5. Don’t forget: “Pepperoni – keep it pepperoni,” Quintana says.

6. Roll August MVP Nick Castellanos in protective bubble wrap between innings and after games (see: Wednesday HBP).

7. Team-building party for everybody on the expanded roster at Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha during off day Wednesday on way to Milwaukee.

8. Two words: more mental skills. Mind guru Bob Tewksbury’s presence was apparent during mind-blowing road sweep in New York.

9. Get Anthony Rizzo a new mattress. Also: Get him back from that sore back as soon as possible.

10. Did somebody say boring? The Cards have averaged 86 wins since their last playoff appearance, and the Cubs need one more season of that.

11. Stock up on the NoDoz and Red Bull now. Seven of the final 10 games are against the Cardinals, and the Cubs need Kris Bryant (and pals) as alert as possible, especially for the final three in St. Louis.

12-13. Get big-boy Septembers from Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan, who go from unheralded success stories to critical pieces of the bullpen puzzle in the most important month of their baseball lives.

14. High-sodium intake. As in lots of Brandon (“Salt”) Kintzler when it counts.

15. Catch the friggin’ ball (Cubs lag far behind their recent playoff predecessors in defensive run prevention).

16. Throw the friggin’ ball (Cubs’ ERA jumped from 3.98 through July to 4.48 since).

17. “Move the [friggin’] baseball” –Joe Maddon.

18. “Find a way to be the best [friggin’] version of ourselves” – Theo Epstein.

19-21. Daniel Descalso, Alec Mills, and Derek Holland. Somebody in that group is going to make a difference in a key moment down the stretch after returning when rosters expand next week. At least one. Right?

22. Team-building slumber party at Jed Hoyer’s new house on Sept. 23 off day, before six-game road finish.

23. Bullpen Russian Roulette. Spin the setup-man wheel for a week and see who’s left. That’s your late-inning crew down the stretch. Click.

24. Send business president Crane Kenney on a fact-finding mission to Naples, Florida, to keep him as far away from Wrigley as possible the final month (see: Greek priest fiasco, 2008).

25. Try not to suck (especially on the road).

26. Get El Mago’s best Card tricks of the year – along with a lot more of that disappearing baseball thing he does.

27-29. Jon Lester’s brass, Yu Darvish’s stuff, Kyle Hendricks’ brain.

30. And pray for rain.

Jed’s house.