Chicago missed a golden opportunity to make up ground on first-place Houston on Saturday, losing 8-2 to Pittsburgh while the Astros were falling 3-2 to St. Louis.
Sunday’s starter Mark Prior said despite the missed opportunity the Cubs need to regroup and focus on their task at hand.
“We’ve got to worry about ourselves. We don’t have to worry about them,” Prior said. “They’ve got to do their job, and we’ve got our job to do.”
Prior has been virtually unhittable since his return from the disabled list on Aug. 4, going 8-1 with a 1.45 ERA.
In his last start, Prior dazzled the New York Mets in a 3-2 victory on Tuesday, striking out 13 and coming within an out of his fourth complete game of the season.
The Pirates have won seven of 10 and are 31-30 since dealing away many of their key regulars and pitchers in July, including current Cubs Aramis Ramirez, Randall Simon and Kenny Lofton, and Boston’s Jeff Suppan and Scott Sauerbeck.
Then on Aug. 26, they dealt their best player, outfielder Brian Giles, to San Diego.
STANDINGS: Cubs - 2nd place, 1 1/2 GB, NL Central. Pirates - 4th place, 11 1/2 GB, NL Central.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Prior (16-6, 2.47 ERA). He’s made four career starts against the Pirates, and is 3-0 with a 2.51 ERA.
PIRATES PROBABLE STARTER: Oliver Perez (4-9, 5.40 ERA). Perez has made four starts for the Pirates since coming over in the deal that sent Giles to San Diego in August, and is 0-2 with a 5.48 ERA. In his last start, he allowed four runs and eight hits over five innings in a 12-4 loss to Cincinnati on Tuesday. He has made two career starts against the Cubs, going 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cubs - Mark Grudzielanek, .314 avg.; Sammy Sosa, 36 HRs; Ramirez, 99 RBIs; Lofton and Sosa, 92 runs; Lofton, 29 SBs. Pirates - Jason Kendall, .324 avg. and 82 runs; Reggie Sanders, 31 HRs, 87 RBIs and 15 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 7-7.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - RHP Prior has double-digit strikeouts in 12 of his 47 career starts. … The Cubs are 14-6 in September, yet have picked up only one game on Houston in the standings. … RHP Prior is 10-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 16 road starts this season. Pirates - In the first three games of this series, the Pirates have 27 runs and 34 hits. … The win Saturday was the Bucs’ 12th in their last 17 games at home and their 73rd of the season overall, surpassing their total from 2002. … OF Sanders, who had hoped to make a run at 100 RBIs, has missed this entire series with an oblique muscle injury and is stuck on 87.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 41-36 on the road; Pirates - 39-41 at home.
INJURIES: Cubs - OF Corey Patterson (knee), 60-day DL; RHP Scott Chiasson (elbow), 60-day DL; LHP Will Ohman (elbow), 60-day DL. Pirates - INF Pat Meares (hand), 60-day DL; INF Pokey Reese (thumb), 60-day DL; RHP Kris Benson (shoulder), 60-day DL; LHP Dave Williams (shoulder), 60-day DL.