Cubs Coming Off Good Series

Maybe the Cubs were inspired by a speech from manager Lou Piniella earlier this week.

Or maybe they found a willing foil in the Pirates.

Or just maybe the starting pitching has gotten back on track.

Whatever the case, the Cubs come home Friday riding a three-game winning streak after recording a sweep in Pittsburgh. Their 71-67 record has them four games over .500 for the first time since Aug. 19, when they were 61-57 and six games out of first place in the NL Central.

They're 11 games back now, and they face a huge uphill climb in the wild-card race, but Piniella talked with the team earlier this week about pride: "personal and team pride," he said.

"It worked, and guys listened," shortstop Ryan Theriot said. "They respect Lou for what he's done on the field as a player and also for what kind of manager he is."

"Guys are showing some fight, and that they want to play hard the rest of the way," GM Jim Hendry said on Thursday's off day. "It's encouraging to see."

The Cubs' starting pitchers are off to a great start this month, with seven quality starts. Of their nine starts overall this month, the starters have an ERA of 2.05, having allowed 13 earned runs in 57 innings.

"It's pretty simple," Hendry said. "We didn't hit with men on base this year. A lot of guys who had good years last year collectively had bad years. We'll make adjustments and move forward."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Theriot appears to be coming out of a slump. After being benched for the final game in New York on Sunday, Theriot hit safely in all three games at Pittsburgh, going 5-for-13. Theriot has his batting average back up to .288, but his on-base percentage is .337, or 50 points below last year. He also has struck out 83 times while walking just 36 times. Last year, he had 73 walks and only 58 strikeouts. An early-season push from Piniella to have Theriot "drive" the ball may have hurt his numbers. Theriot does have a career-best seven homers and 51 RBIs.

--2B Jeff Baker is third in the NL in batting average with his new team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Baker is batting .336 (43-for-128) since his July 2 trade from Colorado. LF Matt Holiday, acquired from Oakland, is hitting .379 with St. Louis, and CF Nyjer Morgan, traded from Pittsburgh, is at .351 for Washington.

"He's done a nice job," Hendry said of Baker. "He's a versatile guy. It was unfair to judge him when he first got here because he had been on the DL and hadn't had too many rehab games."

--RHP Carlos Zambrano threw six innings against Pittsburgh on Wednesday and earned his first victory since July 22. Zambrano was on the disabled list from Aug. 2-25. He turned in his 15th quality start. The Cubs have 84 quality starts. They entered Wednesday tied for second with Atlanta in quality starts behind Colorado.

ROSTER REPORT

--RHP Rich Harden starts Friday's series opener with Cincinnati at Wrigley Field. He is 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA lifetime against the Reds. This year, he's 2-1 with a 2.50 ERA vs. the Reds, with 25 strikeouts and six walks. Harden will be making his 25th start, which would equal last year's season total between Oakland and the Cubs. Harden worked in the offseason to strengthen his troublesome right shoulder. He spent time on the DL this year with a mid-back strain, but the Cubs credit pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the training staff for keeping Harden healthy most of the year.

--1B Derrek Lee brings a three-game hitting streak into the upcoming homestand. He's 5-for-12 on the streak. During the just-concluded trip, Lee was 8-for-19 (.421) with four homers, six RBIs and eight runs. Lee's 96 RBIs lead the Cubs by a wide margin. LF Alfonso Soriano's 55 are next, and he hasn't played since Sept. 3.

--RHP Kevin Gregg has a 27.00 ERA in September (seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings pitched) after posting a 6.75 ERA (10 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings pitched) in August. Gregg, whose propensity for giving up the home run led to him losing his closer's job to RHP Carlos Marmol, gave up his 13th of the season in Wednesday's series finale at Pittsburgh to force a save situation.

--C Koyie Hill started two of the three games in Pittsburgh. Hill went 3-for-9 with a pair of RBIs. Former No. 1 C Geovany Soto, the reigning Rookie of the Year, has struggled, but he doubled home a pair of runs Tuesday. Since coming off the disabled list Aug. 7, Soto is 10-for-57 (.175). The Cubs say they like the way Soto has hit the ball of late and that he's gone to the opposite field (right) of late. Soto's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is way down from last year's .337. His BABIP is .252 this year, which may suggest he's hit into some bad luck.

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