The Chicago Cubs may be enjoying their biggest division lead of the season, but manager Lou Piniella knows that doesn’t mean much with five weeks left in the regular season.
The Cubs try to boost their NL Central advantage when they continue a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday at Chase Field.
Chicago (66-61) has won six of its last eight games, including a 6-2 win over Arizona (72-57) on Friday. The Cubs recorded 14 hits and Sean Marshall threw six dominant innings, allowing just one run and two hits.
“If you want to call a game and a half breathing room - my Lord, if we ever open up three,” Piniella said with a chuckle. “We’ve just got to play, really. At this time of the year it gets fun to watch the scoreboard a little bit. But boy, you’d better concentrate on what you’re doing, because if not, you can lose ground awfully quick.”
The Diamondbacks know that all too well as they have lost four of their last five games and hold a two-game lead over San Diego in the NL West. Arizona has been outscored 30-11 while batting .206 over the last five games while the starting rotation has posted an 8.03 ERA.
Diamondbacks starter Micah Owings hit his third homer in five at-bats on Friday, but his team was held to just four hits.
Doug Davis (10-11, 4.22 ERA) tries to bounce back from his shortest outing of the season when he takes the ball for Arizona on Saturday. The left-hander gave up six runs and six hits, including a season-high three homers, in a 9-0 defeat to Milwaukee on Monday.
The loss snapped an impressive run during which he went 5-0 with a 3.13 ERA in seven starts.
“The control wasn’t there,” said Davis, who threw just 29 of his 54 pitches for strikes. “I got behind every hitter and it seems like when I did get ahead I made a mistake and put it right over the middle for them.”
The veteran southpaw is 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 career starts versus the Cubs, winning three of his last four outings against them.
Chicago will counter with Ted Lilly (13-6, 3.88), who is trying to overcome back-to-back shaky starts. The left-hander won nine of 10 decisions from June 15-Aug. 9, but is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA over his last two outings.
He allowed five runs and seven hits over six innings in a 6-4 defeat to St. Louis on Monday. Lilly especially struggled when ahead in the count.
“There were times earlier in the year when I was able to get away with that more than I am now,” Lilly told the Cubs’ official Web site. “Especially after you make one mistake in an 0-2 count, you don’t want to do it again. It’s going to happen once in a while, but you give up two, three hits with 0-2 counts— even one is tough.”
Lilly is 6-1 with a 3.76 ERA in 11 road starts and has won his last four while allowing just five runs through 27 1-3 innings. He has never pitched at Chase Field, however, and is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in three games, including one start, versus the Diamondbacks.
Chicago left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who has been sidelined since Aug. 6 with a strained right quadriceps, worked out on the field before Friday’s game. Piniella wouldn’t rule out a return in a three-game series against Milwaukee next week.