Cubs Inch Closer to Division Crown

The Cubs are getting closer to winning the National League Central.

After winning 8-0 over Pittsburgh and watching Milwaukee lose against Atlanta, the Cubs are 3 1/2 ahead of the Brewers with six games left for Chicago and seven games left for Milwaukee heading into Monday's action.

At this pace, the Cubs can win the title as early as Wednesday if they keep winning and Milwaukee keeps losing.

The Cubs' recent surge (winning 10 of 12 games) didn't surprise slugger Aramis Ramirez.

"We've got the guys who can do it (make it to the postseason)," said Ramirez, who has 25 homers and a team-high 98 RBIs. "Soriano. Myself. (Derrek) Lee. (Cliff) Floyd. We've all been there before. We can do it."

CUBS 8, PIRATES 0: Ronny Cedeno, subbing for starting shortstop Ryan Theriot (back spasms) drove in three runs, as did Derrek Lee, and the Cubs increased their National League Central lead to a season-high 3 1/2 games over Milwaukee with six games left to play. Carlos Zambrano threw six shutout innings before leaving the game with cramps in his right forearm.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Carlos Zambrano left Sunday's game after throwing six shutout innings because of spasms in his forearm. He is expected to make his next start Saturday against Cincinnati.

--SS Ryan Theriot was scratched from Sunday's lineup with back spasms. The Cubs hope that after Monday's off-day, he will be able to return Tuesday against Florida.

--LHP Rich Hill became the fourth pitcher in the Cubs' starting rotation to reach double-digit win totals when he gave up three runs over five innings in the Cubs' 9-5 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday. He improved to 10-8 and joined Carlos Zambrano (17 wins after Sunday's play), Ted Lilly (15) and Jason Marquis (12) in the double-digit club.

--LF Alfonso Soriano hit his 30th and 31st home runs on Saturday and has homered four times in three games. But he had a two-game streak snapped in which he led off a game with a homer. "I've got my timing down at the right time," Soriano said about getting hot during a race for the National League Central crown.

--RHP Steve Trachsel, who had not pitched since Sept. 13 against Houston, threw a simulated game after the Cubs' 9-5 victory over Pittsburgh. Trachsel is scheduled to pitch on Thursday against Florida in what could turn out to be the game that clinches the National League Central crown for the Cubs.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5-for-5 -- Mark DeRosa's performance against Cincinnati on Aug. 16 and again on Sept. 18. He's just the third Cubs player in 50 years to have two games with five or more hits against the same team in one season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "His maturity was incredible. Everyone was getting called up except him. He never once wavered or felt sorry for himself, which a lot of times you see at that level. He waited his turn. I think he's shown he deserves a shot." -- Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita on Pacific Coast League MVP C Geovany Soto, who was also hitting .400 through Friday with the parent club.


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