The San Diego Padres took two of three from their closest pursuers in the NL West to kick off a 10-game road trip. They know they can’t afford to get complacent as they begin what should be an easier leg of the trip.
Fresh off one of their biggest series of the season, the first-place Padres head to Wrigley Field on Monday night for the first of four against the disappointing Chicago Cubs.
San Diego (69-47) has won six of seven, and its latest series was perhaps the most significant sign that baseball’s biggest surprise team doesn’t intend on fading.
The Padres split a pair of one-run contests at wild-card leading San Francisco, then dropped their division rivals 3 1/2 games back Sunday with an emphatic 8-2 victory over two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum(notes).
San Diego has won nine of 11 against the Giants.
“It just goes to show we’re a better team than people give us credit for,” said third baseman Chase Headley(notes), who had three multihit games in the series. “We’ve played well against them, but there’s a long way to go. This series, as big as it was made out to be, there’s a lot of baseball left.”
That’s the harsh reality for the Cubs (50-68), who are 17 games out of first place in the Central despite baseball’s third-highest payroll.
Chicago had dropped 14 of 16 after losing its opener at division-leading St. Louis on Friday, but came back strong over the weekend. Derrek Lee(notes) and Aramis Ramirez(notes) homered in a 3-2 win Saturday, and Lee went deep twice Sunday in a 9-7 victory.
Lee was removed with lower back stiffness as the Cubs led 8-1 in the fourth inning, though manager Lou Piniella said he would have kept him in had the game been closer at that point.
Chicago’s bullpen surrendered five runs in the ninth to provide a scare Sunday, and that’s where this series could be won or lost. The Padres’ 2.68 bullpen ERA is on pace to be the majors’ best since the 2003 Dodgers’ 2.46 ERA, while the 4.74 ERA of the Cubs’ relief corps is the fourth-worst in baseball.
Kevin Correia(notes) (9-7, 4.86 ERA) will try to get the ball to San Diego’s bullpen, something he’s been very successful at doing since the All-Star break. He’s 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA in his last five starts after yielding four runs over 6 1-3 innings in an 8-5 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Correia allowed one hit in six innings before the Pirates chased him in the seventh.
“That’s as good as I’ve felt,” Correia said. “In the last month or so, I’ve felt pretty good but I just didn’t really have everything working, and then tonight I had the offspeed pitches to go with the fastball command.”
Correia has no record and a 6.19 ERA in three starts against the Cubs. Lee is 4 for 10 against the right-hander.
Tom Gorzelanny(notes) (6-6, 3.65) counters for Chicago, looking to win for the first time in four starts. He gave up four runs over six innings Wednesday at San Francisco, leaving without a decision in a 5-4 loss.
Gorzelanny is 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA against the Padres, whom he hasn’t faced since 2007.