Pittsburgh (66-88) at Chicago (81-73)

Breezy Currently: Chicago, IL, US
Temp: 70° F
  • Game info: 1:05 pm EDT Sat Sep 22, 2007
  • TV: WGN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

With the pennant race heating up, the Chicago Cubs’ offense is doing the same.

The first-place Cubs look to continue their offensive surge and increase their NL Central lead when they continue their three-game series with the slumping Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

On a windy Friday afternoon at Wrigley, Chicago (81-73) defeated the Pirates 13-8 to win for the eighth time in 10 games. The Cubs remained 1 1/2 games ahead of second-place Milwaukee, which won at Atlanta later Friday.

Chicago pounded four homers on Friday, including two three-run shots from Aramis Ramirez, in its highest-scoring effort of the season.

“It was a good day to hit. But you can’t blame the wind. You still got to hit the ball,” Ramirez insisted.

Even on the road or when the wind hasn’t been blowing out, the Cubs have been on a home-run hitting barrage lately. They have already hit 32 homers in 21 games this month after hitting 32 home runs in 54 games in July and August combined.

“What’s important now is we’re playing good baseball and winning baseball games,” Chicago manager Lou Piniella said.

“We need another week of momentum. It feels good to win these games. They’re key games, and the kids are performing.”

Ramirez’s second three-run shot—his 25th homer of the season—broke a 7-7 tie in the sixth. The Cubs third baseman is batting .417 (10-for-24) with five home runs and 12 RBIs in his last seven home games.

Alfonso Soriano hit a leadoff home run for the second straight game, and has hit 10 of his team-leading 29 homers this month.

Catcher Geovany Soto hit Chicago’s other homer Friday, and is batting .464 (13-for-28) with three home runs in 10 games since being called up from Triple-A Iowa on Sept. 1.

The Cubs look to win their third straight game Saturday with Rich Hill (9-8, 4.01 ERA) on the mound. Hill allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings of a 7-6 win over Cincinnati on Monday, but did not factor in the decision.

Chicago has won six of the last seven times Hill has pitched, and seven of his last eight starts at Wrigley. Hill has not lost on Chicago’s North Side since June 17, and this will be his first home start of the year against the Pirates. The left-hander is 1-0 in two career starts against Pittsburgh at Wrigley, allowing three runs in 14 1-3 innings in those games.

In his two starts against the Pirates this season, Hill is 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA.

Pittsburgh (66-88), owners of the worst record in the NL Central, has matched a season high by losing its seventh consecutive game. The Pirates last lost eight straight from Sept. 21-29 of last season.

Zach Duke (3-7, 5.70) will make his first start in nearly three months when he takes the ball Saturday against one of his favorite opponents.

Duke was placed on the disabled list in early July with left elbow irritation. He pitched three innings of relief last Saturday in a 9-7 loss at Houston, allowing three hits and two runs, and this will be his first start since June 28 at Florida.

The left-hander was leading all major league pitchers in hits allowed before his injury, but he has been at his best against Chicago.

He is 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs, and in his only start against them this season, he gave up two runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-2 victory on April 30, but was not a factor in the decision.

In five career starts at Wrigley, Duke is 3-1 with a 1.42 ERA, yielding one earned run or none in four of those games.

“I’ve had some pretty good memories of pitching at Wrigley, and it’s just going to be something where a lot of hard work is going to be paid off there,” Duke told the team’s official Web site.

The Pirates have lost 13 of their last 16 road games.

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Starting Pitchers

Z. Duke STL vs. R. Hill LAD
3-8 Record 11-8
5.53 ERA 3.92
41 K 183
25 BB 63
1.73 WHIP 1.19