Though the Cubs (85-76) clinched their first NL Central title since 2003 on Friday, Lilly (15-8, 3.86 ERA) is expected to start Sunday and could record a career high in wins.
The left-hander, who has exceeded expectations in his first season with the Cubs, likely won’t go more than a few innings Sunday since he is expected to be Chicago’s starter in Game 2 of the divisional series scheduled for Thursday.
Lilly has made four postseason appearances and one start with Oakland in 2002 and 2003.
A Chicago pitching staff has not shut out three straight opponents since July 1992.
In a 4-2 loss at Florida on Tuesday, Lilly allowed all his runs in the second inning. He lasted five innings, giving up eight hits in suffering his first defeat since Aug. 25.
“When you have those innings, that’s when you have to bear down,” Lilly told the Cubs’ official Web site. “I have to find my way out of it and work out of it. I thought I had an opportunity to do that.”
It’s uncertain if any of the Cubs regulars will start Sunday against the Reds (71-90), who look to avoid finishing the season with an eight straight loss.
“It doesn’t really mean anything right now except an extra at-bat or two,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “I think it’s more important to rest them than to play them.”
Soto is batting .404 (21-for-52) with three homers and eight RBIs in 17 games and could see most of the action behind the plate in the postseason.
Chicago will face Cincinnati rookie Homer Bailey (3-2, 5.67) on Sunday.
Bailey allowed five runs—two earned—and three hits in 5 2-3 innings, but didn’t factor in an 8-5 loss to Houston on Tuesday.
“I’m not super positive about it, but I’m not going to take a negative out of it,” said Bailey, the team’s top draft pick in 2004 who is expected to be a regular in the Reds rotation in 2008.
The right-hander will make his first appearance against Chicago.
Cincinnati has struggled offensively since losing stars Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. to injuries in the final two weeks. The Reds have gone 18 straight innings without a run and will try to avoid being shut out in three consecutive games for first time since April 1989.
“You try to go out and do the best you can,” Saturday’s losing pitcher Aaron Harang said.
Former Cub Buck Coats had the lone hit Saturday for Cincinnati, which has not lost eight in a row since 2005.