Upcoming Week Could Be Interesting

Zambrano in Piniella's doghouse

Now that the Cubs have clinched the NL Central, manager Lou Piniella and his coaching staff will use the upcoming week to rest players and set the playoff pitching rotation.

The Cubs used a lineup of backups in Sunday's 5-1 victory over the Cardinals. However, Piniella said he's mindful that the Mets and Brewers are still fighting for playoff spots and that he'll field representative lineups.

More interesting will be the rotation. Two weeks ago, Piniella set his rotation for the rest of the regular season. With Rich Harden set to pitch the regular-season finale at Milwaukee, the playoff rotation looked to be Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster, followed by Harden in a possible fourth game.

That's all subject to change now. Piniella remains miffed that Zambrano showed disrespect Friday when he tried to walk off the mound as Piniella came out to remove him from the game. Piniella ordered Zambrano back on the mound until he got there.

On top of that, both Lilly and Dempster have come up big down the stretch, with Lilly recording a career-best 16 wins so far and Dempster at 17, also a career best. With the playoffs not opening until Wednesday, Oct. 1, Piniella has time to arrange things the way he likes.

CUBS 5, CARDINALS 1: Dempster extended his single-season career best in wins by earning his 17th. He worked five innings, giving up six hits and the only St. Louis run. RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Chad Gaudin each earned a hold, with RHPs Randy Wells and Bob Howry finishing. Rookie 3B Casey McGehee drove in two as Piniella rested his regulars one day after the Cubs clinched the NL Central. The Cubs closed out their regular-season home season with a 55-26 record.

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Gaudin returned to the club after a stint at the spring training facility in Arizona, where he was rehabbing a sore lower back. The Cubs need him because their middle-relief corps is thin. Gaudin, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 29, worked an inning against the Cardinals, walking two and striking out one. Gaudin said he was "100 percent," but Piniella said Gaudin is probably rusty.

--RF Kosuke Fukudome started Saturday and Sunday after seeing extensive time on the bench this month. In Sunday's victory, he went 2-for-4 with a double. He also had an outfield assist.

Fukudome has had a bad second half, but Piniella says the Cubs need left-handed hitting.

"We need for him to hit a little better, to be honest with you," Piniella said. "At the same time, he's never quit. He's played hard. He's always played good defense for us."

--Samardzija worked a scoreless inning, striking out two in his best outing in a while. Samardzija appears to be battling veteran Howry for a spot on the division-series roster. He had been experiencing control problems this month.

"That's the best I've seen Jeff throw the ball, very impressive," Piniella said.

-- Lilly recorded a career-high 16th victory in Saturday's NL Central clincher. Lilly won 15 last year with the Cubs and 15 in 2006 with Toronto.

--McGehee recorded his first major league hit, an infield single. McGehee, playing as Aramis Ramirez got a rest, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.

--SS Ronny Cedeno played in place of Ryan Theriot, who is having a brutal September, reminiscent of last year. Theriot's on-base percentage had been .395 in late August, but it is down to .375. His batting average has fallen to .298 because of a September in which he's gone 11-for-60 (.183).

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