Cubs' rotation appears back on track
Chicago (86-57) at St. Louis (76-66), Tuesday, 7:15 p.m. CT
CINCINNATI -- Think the Cubs have high-tech wizards figuring out the best possible scenarios?
Chicago's rotation for the remaining 19 games was scribbled on a piece of scratch paper on Lou Piniella's desk Sunday. The hurlers are set, beginning with a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday."If everything works out, the rotation is written out through the end of the year," Piniella said. "Staying healthy is the key." Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden will face the Cardinals, while Jason Marquis will open the Cubs' series in Houston on Friday -- with Carlos Zambrano tentatively scheduled for Saturday and Dempster closing it up Sunday. If Zambrano can't go, Sean Marshall will get another substitute start, but all indications are that Big Z is ready. He threw off flat ground Sunday, and his right shoulder passed all the tests. He will have a bullpen session in St. Louis. Harden, skipped as a precautionary measure, is also ready to go. In a perfect world, Piniella can stay with five starters for the remaining three weeks of the season. The St. Louis series is part of the team's longest road trip of the season, and the final 19 games are all against clubs with winning records. "We knew that coming into September," Piniella said. "We knew it would be a very competitive [month]." A year ago, the Cubs finished September with a 17-12 record to win the National League Central by two games. They've had sole possession of first or been in a tie for the past 17 weeks. Alfonso Soriano carried the team on his shoulders in the final month a year ago, hitting 14 homers. His three-homer game Saturday not only ended the Cubs' losing streak at six games, but it definitely helped the mood in the clubhouse. "He just loosened everybody up to go out and have fun," Mark DeRosa said. "We were playing so tight. None of the guys will say we were panicking -- we really weren't panicking -- but we were flat, I'd say. We weren't going out there and taking it to the opposition and looking to win. It was more just playing the game and seeing what happens. You fall into those funks sometimes when things aren't going your way." Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster (15-6, 2.99 ERA)
In his next start, Dempster will be vying for his career-high 16th win once again. The right-hander suffered a rare loss at home in his last start, against Houston. He gave up three runs on eight hits in seven innings, but the Cubs' offense continued to sputter. Since the All-Star break, Dempster is 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA. STL: RHP Kyle Lohse (13-6, 3.76 ERA)
Ever wonder why statheads say wins don't matter? Take a look at Lohse's past four starts. He's pitched 26 innings, allowing eight runs for a 2.77 ERA. He's struck out 18 against eight walks, and given up exactly one home run. To top it off, three of those four starts have come in three of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball -- in Cincinnati, Houston and Phoenix. And yet he's 0-1 in those games. Can somebody please buy this guy a break? Tidbits
Jon Lieber has returned home to Mobile, Ala., telling Cubs general manager Jim Hendry his arm is sore and he's unable to pitch the rest of the season. Lieber, 38, was 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA in 26 games. ... Reliever Chad Gaudin will fly to Chicago on Monday to be examined by team doctor Michael Schafer. Gaudin has not pitched since Aug. 29 because of lower back pain. ... Bobby Scales hit a three-run homer and finished with four RBIs, but it wasn't enough as Oklahoma beat Iowa, 9-6, to even the best of five series at two wins apiece. The winner will face Sacramento in the PCL Championship series. ... Daytona beat Fort Myers, 5-1, in the first game of the Florida State League Championship Series. Tony Thomas hit an RBI triple in the seventh and sealed the win with a squeeze bunt in the ninth. ... The Cubs' game Sept. 20 vs. the Cardinals at Wrigley Field will now start at 2:55 p.m. CT to accomodate FOX. ... Geovany Soto will host the 2008 Rooters Ball at Harry Caray's Tavern in Wrigleyville on Sept. 18. Tickets, which benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, are $100 each and the event is limited to 250 guests. Some of Soto's teammates will attend to help raise money. ... Piniella was happy that Alfonso Soriano didn't oblige Cubs fans and take a curtain call after hitting his third homer on Saturday. "I'm glad he didn't go out," Piniella said. "I think I would've grabbed him if I'd seen him. That's what you'd call evicting road rage." We think he meant "evoking" road rage. It's Lou speak. Tickets
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Wednesday: Cubs (Rich Harden, 9-2, 1.99) at Cardinals (Braden Looper, 12-11, 4.09), 7:15 p.m. CT
Thursday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 13-9, 4.43) at Cardinals (Todd Wellemeyer, 12-6, 3.74), 7:15 p.m. CT
Friday: Cubs (Jason Marquis, 10-8, 4.36) at Astros (TBD), 7:05 p.m. CT
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.