The Chicago Cubs are playing some of their best baseball of the year. Unfortunately, that surge has come too late to make the postseason.
Having clinched three straight winning seasons for the first time in 37 years, the Cubs will try to add a couple more victories in Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs (82-74) earned their seventh win in nine games with a 6-0 victory Monday. Derrek Lee(notes), Jeff Baker(notes) and Micah Hoffpauir(notes) each drove in two runs to support Ryan Dempster’s(notes) third career shutout, a five-hitter.
The win allowed Chicago to clinch its third consecutive winning season—a first since 1967-72 and first under one manager since 1933-37 with Charlie Grimm. However, Colorado’s home win over Milwaukee later that night eliminated the Cubs from the playoff race and extended their World Series title drought to 101 seasons.
“Just because you’re out of it, it doesn’t mean you have to give up,” Dempster told Chicago’s official Web site. “We’re still playing with a lot of pride.”
Ted Lilly(notes) (12-8, 3.02 ERA), who will take the mound for the Cubs in the opener, has been arguably their top starter this season and is 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA in four starts this month. The left-hander has a 1.53 ERA in his last seven outings, but did not get a decision Sept. 18 in St. Louis despite allowing two runs and five hits over 7 2-3 innings of Chicago’s 3-2 loss.
Lilly was given some extra days off because of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He’s 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his last four matchups against Pittsburgh.
Carlos Zambrano(notes) (9-6, 3.69) will start the finale and try to build on his best outing of the season. The right-hander threw a two-hitter for his fourth career shutout in Chicago’s 3-0 victory Friday in San Francisco and moved one win away from his seventh consecutive season with at least 10.
Zambrano will also search for his fifth straight win over the Pirates since Sept. 8, 2007. He’s 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA in two matchups against them this year.
Pittsburgh (59-97) has dropped 17 of its last 18 on the road and will go with Charlie Morton(notes) (4-9, 5.01) in the first game followed by Jeff Karstens(notes) (3-5, 5.45). The Pirates, who have a major league-worst 19-56 road record, are heading toward their first 100-loss season since 2001.
If Morton repeats his previous start at Wrigley Field, the Pirates are all but assured of another defeat. The right-hander was tagged for a career-high 10 runs with seven hits and three walks in one-plus inning in a 17-2 loss on Aug. 14 as the Cubs set season highs for runs and hits (18).
Morton has dropped five straight away from home, posting a 10.13 ERA in those outings. He’s 2-7 with a 5.69 ERA in his last 10 overall starts and 0-2 with a 37.80 ERA in two lifetime matchups against the Cubs.
Making his first start since June 5, Karstens allowed one run and three hits over three innings Friday in the Pirates’ 3-1 loss to Los Angeles. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs, winning at Wrigley on Aug. 1, 2008 by throwing six scoreless innings in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 victory.
The Cubs have shut down pitchers Kevin Gregg(notes) and Angel Guzman(notes) and left fielder Alfonso Soriano(notes) for the season. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez(notes) could join them, as he didn’t start Tuesday because of discomfort in his left shoulder.