MLB Insiders - Chicago Cubs

The Pirates open a three-game series with Chicago Cubs on Monday night at PNC Park. Righty Jeff Karstens will be on the hill for the Bucs. The Cubs will toss lefty Ted Lilly.

The surging Cubs look to continue their dominance of the lowly Pirates on Monday night in the opener of a three-game set at PNC Park.

The Cubs send Ted Lilly (12-7, 4.25 ERA) to the mound as he tries to bounce back from his first loss since the All-Star break.

The left-hander held Cincinnati hitless through the first five innings before suffering a 2-1 home defeat on Wednesday. He gave up two runs and two hits, while fanning seven in seven innings.

Lilly hasn't received a decision but has compiled an 8.38 ERA in two starts at Pittsburgh this season. He also held the Pirates to a run and six hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-1 home victory on Aug. 2 to improve to 2-0 with a 4.74 ERA in eight lifetime games against them.

Pittsburgh tries to turn things around in the opener of a six-game homestand behind Jeff Karstens (2-2, 2.25), whose outing was pushed back two days to accommodate the return of starter Tom Gorzelanny.

The right-hander lost a second straight start on Aug. 17, allowing four runs and nine hits in six innings of a 4-0 home loss to the New York Mets.

Karstens, though, hopes to repeat his performance against the Cubs from Aug. 1, when he scattered five hits in six innings of a 3-0 win at Chicago. Just a couple hours after spending much of his pregame routine studying film with manager Lou Piniella, right fielder Kosuke Fukudome hit a two-run pinch-hit homer in Sunday's 6-1 victory over Washington.

Fukudome was in a horrific slump, going 1-for-13 on the homestand before his key blast. He also had been dropped from fifth to seventh to eighth in the batting order.

"He's a good pupil," Piniella said with a smile. "We shortened his stride, a simple little thing to get his hands set a little quicker. The swing is shorter, more compact and to the ball."

After the film session, Fukudome headed to the batting cage to work with hitting coach Gerald Perry. The home run was his first since July 31.

"He took it into the game, and you saw the results," Piniella said. "That was it. We didn't change much at all. Just shortened his stride so that when his front foot hit, his hands were set quicker and his swing is shorter. He drove that ball really well."

CUBS 6, NATIONALS 1: Rich Harden tied his career high by striking out 11 and working seven innings of two-hit, one-run ball as the Cubs won their eighth consecutive series Sunday. Harden is 4-1 with a 1.47 ERA as a Cub. Even with the wind blowing in, the Cubs managed to line three homers through the teeth of it: RF Mark DeRosa with a solo shot in the second, C Geovany Soto with a two-run homer in the second and PH Kosuke Fukudome with a two-run blast in the seventh.

--1B Derrek Lee did not start Sunday because of neck and upper-back spasms. The ailment forced Lee out of Saturday's game in the sixth inning after he struck out in the fifth on "an awkward swing." Lee said the injury is not serious but it is related to a neck problem that he began having early last season. He said he hopes to play Monday in Pittsburgh.

--RF Kosuke Fukudome was not in Sunday's starting lineup but he did hit a pinch two-run homer. He and manager Lou Piniella spent Sunday's pregame holed up in the video room watching tapes. Piniella said Fukudome is "in between" at the plate. Fukudome entered Sunday 1-for-13 on the homestand.

--RHP Ryan Dempster tied his career high in victories Saturday with his 15th. Dempster also won 15 in 2001 while with Florida. He leads the Cubs with 18 quality starts.

--C Geovany Soto hit his 19th homer Sunday, tying the Cubs' rookie record, set in 1966 by C Randy Hundley. "I'm honored just to be in that category," Soto said.

--RF Mark DeRosa homered for the fourth consecutive game, becoming the first Cub to do so since Fred McGriff, Sept. 20-23, 2001. "I don't know what to say about it," DeRosa said. "I'm guessing right. I'm getting my pitch and not missing it."

--LF Alfonso Soriano has walked in a career-high five straight games, totaling seven walks in that span. The Cubs drew four walks Sunday, making it 32 straight games in which they've drawn at least one base on balls.

BY THE NUMBERS: 650 -- The Cubs' single-season record for walks drawn by their batters in a season, set in 1975. The Cubs are on pace to break that record by two this year. It's a far cry from recent Cubs teams, including last year, when they finished 15th in the NL with 500 walks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We trust each other. It's not a two-man show, a three-man show. It's a bunch of guys strewn throughout the lineup who are capable of getting it done." -- IF-OF Mark DeRosa, who entered Monday having homered in four straight games.

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