Cubs' playoff hopes hanging by a thread

The Cubs' playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, but manager Lou Piniella isn't giving up.

Piniella held an informal meeting with his team after Saturday's 2-0 loss at Dodger Stadium. He may have stated the obvious by saying the Cubs needed to "have a really, really good homestand," which covers 10 games against the Nationals, Mets, Astros and White Sox.

The Cubs are eight games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. They finished a 2-5 road trip Sunday with a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers. For the trip, the Cubs scored a total of 17 runs.

At home, the Cubs have fared considerably better. They're 35-22 at Wrigley Field compared with 27-38 on the road.

The Cubs desperately need to put together some offense. Piniella also pointed to the return Tuesday of right-hander Carlos Zambrano, who comes off the disabled list to start against Washington after a good rehab start in the minor leagues last week.

Piniella is giving the Chicago press corps every indication that he wants to come back next year and fulfill the final years of his contract. Speculation has been rife in Chicago that Piniella would walk away, especially if the Cubs don't make the playoffs.

CUBS 3, DODGERS 1: RHP Ryan Dempster stopped the Cubs' three-game losing streak by working seven innings and giving up one unearned run. LF Jake Fox homered and had two RBIs. RHP Carlos Marmol earned his first save since being named closer last week.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LF Jake Fox, starting in place of Alfonso Soriano was 4-for-4 with a homer, equaling his career best in hits for a game. Fox drove in two and is hitting .305. He's putting pressure on manager Lou Piniella to give him more playing time.

--Soriano was benched Sunday for a second straight day. Soriano entered the day without a homer in August, and on Sunday, the Cubs said his left knee has been bothering him. Soriano had trouble with the knee earlier this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 23 -- The Cubs began the week with 24 of their remaining 40 games at Wrigley Field. Twenty-three of those games are against teams with losing records. The only home game the Cubs have against a team with a winning record comes Sept. 3, when they host the White Sox in an interleague makeup game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It gets painful watching this. Painful. It really is. That's a good way to describe it." -- MPiniella, on his team's lack of offense.

ROSTER REPORT

--OF Reed Johnson may not return from the DL until early September. Johnson broke a bone on the top of his right foot on July 29, and it's not healing as quickly as the Cubs had hoped.

--Dempster won for the first time since Aug. 8, as he evened his record to 7-7 and lowered his ERA from 4.28 to 4.07. Dempster worked seven innings, giving up only an unearned run. The quality start was the Cubs' 75th of the season. They're 47-28 in quality-start games, and their starters have an ERA of 2.16 in those games.

--RF Milton Bradley sat out Sunday. He entered the day 0-for-12 over his previous three games and 2-for-22 on the road trip. Bradley came into the game as a defensive replacement and popped out weakly trying to bunt.

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