On Saturday, Dempster and the Cubs continue a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, who have surprisingly given Chicago some trouble this season.
The Cubs (78-50) have the best record in the National League, but they lost 13-5 to the Nationals (46-83) on Friday in a surprising offensive outburst by a team with the worst record in the majors.
The 13 runs allowed by Chicago were its most given up at Wrigley Field since the Brewers scored 13 against the Cubs on June 30, 2007. The Cubs led 4-0 after five innings on Friday before Washington, the lowest scoring team in the majors, scored six times in the sixth inning, led by Willie Harris’ first career grand slam off reliever Neal Cotts. Harris also added a two-run homer in the ninth.
“For me, I just had probably the best game of my career,” Harris said. “It was just a good win for us. We fought back the whole game.”
The Nationals were two runs shy of matching a season high. Seven of their 13 hits were for extra bases (four doubles and three home runs), as they improved to 3-1 against the Cubs this season.
“We got beat up today. What are you going to do?” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “They came out swinging the bats. They hit the ball all over the park and out of it.”
Piniella hands the ball on Saturday to Dempster (14-5, 2.92 ERA), who leads the majors with 11 home wins. The Cubs are 12-3 when he starts at Wrigley Field.
Dempster has won his last two starts and is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA in his last six outings. On Sunday at Florida, Dempster pitched six innings, allowing two runs and five hits while striking out 10 in the 9-2 win. He is one win shy of his career best, set in 2001 with the Marlins.
“I dreamt about it,” he told the Cubs’ official Web site. “You work really hard and hopefully you get the results. … I feel good. I feel strong.”
Dempster is 6-0 with a 3.33 ERA in 11 starts and eight relief appearances against the Nationals. On April 25, he pitched seven innings against them, allowing three runs in a 5-3 loss in his first start against Washington since 2003.
Odalis Perez (5-9, 4.06) started that game for the Nationals, allowing two runs and five hits over six innings. He did not factor in the decision.
Perez is 3-1 with a 3.44 ERA in five career starts against the Cubs, including 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts at Wrigley. He allowed three runs in six innings against Colorado on Sunday in a 7-2 loss.
The Nationals came into this series after snapping a 12-game losing streak with a win at Philadelphia on Thursday. Washington hasn’t won three straight on the road since June, but the Cubs are learning not to take the Nationals lightly.
“Guys are playing for next year, playing (the) spoiler, playing because they’re competitive,” Chicago’s Mark DeRosa said. “You’re not going to have guys in this league roll over. … I don’t care what your record is or what team you’re on. They’re big league ball players for a reason.”
The Nationals last won a road series against the Cubs in 2005 when they swept a three-game set.