By sweeping the White Sox over the weekend, the Cubs have taken a 33-30 lead in the overall series with the White Sox since Interleague play began in 1997.
That is quite a stark contrast from the first several years of head-to-head play between the two Chicago teams. From 1999 through 2003, the Cubs did not finish with a winning record against the White Sox in any of those seasons. Since then, the Cubs have swept the White Sox three times with Sunday's 7-1 victory.
Speaking to reporters after the Cubs' win Sunday, manager Lou Piniella said the victory "culminated [in] three good games of baseball for … the Cubs."
Chicago's win -- coupled with the Cardinals' 13-inning loss at Boston on Sunday -- extended their lead in the NL Central to 4.5 games over St. Louis.
Piniella noted that the Cubs have played well at home this year as evidenced by their 32-8 record at home, where they have now won 14 consecutive games. Piniella noted the White Sox will get a chance to return the favor at their park this weekend.
"It was a good series and we'll enjoy a day off (Monday), and then we've got Baltimore coming in here," Piniella said. "They're also playing well."
The Cubs will start left-hander Sean Marshall in the series opener against the Orioles (38-36). Baltimore will counter with right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CDT with television coverage provided by WGN.
Dempster Continues Dominance
Ryan Dempster, who has made a seamless transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation, tossed eight-plus innings and allowed one run despite 10 hits in the victory Sunday. He improved to 9-2 with a 2.63 ERA through 16 starts.
Piniella said that Dempster, who is 9-0 at home, pitched "a really good ballgame" and that "he wanted to finish it." Piniella instead went to setup man Bob Howry in the ninth inning to record the final three outs. Dempster threw 103 pitches.
Piniella said that complete games to him are "not that important."
"I would rather take out a pitcher an inning sooner … than to see these guys labor," Piniella said. "Starting pitching is so valuable. You can see we've got Zambrano down now. There's no sense taking [unnecessary chances]."
Dempster is now 4-0 over his last six starts, during which time he has a 2.53 ERA.
"He's pitched really well," Piniella said. "He's undefeated at home. I don't think he's really pitched what you'd classify a bad ballgame. Every day he's pitched, he's kept us in it and gave us a chance to win. His home record is impeccable."
Piniella said the Cubs would push Dempster's next start back to Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field when the Cubs meet the White Sox again. He said the Cubs would start rookie Sean Gallagher Friday, giving Dempster six days rest.
Bats Stepping Up
Piniella was asked by reporters about the hot play of Aramis Ramirez, who finished the series 6-for-13 with four home runs – including a walk-off solo shot on Friday. Ramirez is batting .299 with 14 home runs through 72 games.
"When he's hot, he lays off bad pitches and zones in like he is now," Piniella said.
Piniella noted that with Alfonso Soriano currently on the 15-day disabled list (hand), the Cubs' ‘big guys' – Ramirez, Derrek Lee, et al – have done some damage. The Cubs' skipper said that was "good to see."
Another topic of conversation was the hot play of rookie Eric Patterson, who started the final two games of the series in left field and swung a hot bat by going 5-for-8 in the series and clubbing his first career major league home run Sunday.
Patterson was added to the roster on Saturday from Class AAA Iowa when the Cubs placed Carlos Zambrano (shoulder) on the 15-day disabled list.
"We try to take the kids from our system that are playing the best," Piniella said of Patterson. "When we get them here, we try to play them. We don't let them sit for a week or 10 days where they lose their edge and then all of a sudden you have to use them and they're not quite ready. So when we get them here, you usually see that we play them or pitch them almost right away."