The Chicago Cubs took the rubber game of their three-game weekend set with Cincinnati Sunday, winning 5-2. Derrek Lee had three hits, including his 32nd home run of the season, and scored twice.
Ted Lilly got the win for Chicago, his team-leading 12th, after tossing six shutout innings. Lilly threw 119 pitches, a season high. He allowed six hits, two walks, and struck out seven. The outing lowered his 2009 ERA to 3.05, a career best.
Chicago got on the board in the bottom of the fourth, when Koyie Hill and Andres Blanco each contributed bases-loaded singles in a three-run rally. Lee added a fourth run in the bottom of the seventh, when his towering fly ball fell into the basket atop the left-field wall. Bobby Scales extended the lead to 5-0 with an RBI fielder's choice in the eighth.
Cincinnati managed two runs on three hits against Cubs left-handed reliever John Grabow in the top of the ninth, but failed to put together a serious rally.
Lee, who has rediscovered his power stroke in 2009 after hitting just 42 homers combined in the two previous seasons, raised his batting average to .302 on the year with his 3-for-4 effort.
He and third baseman Aramis Ramirez have provided solid run production from the third and fourth spots in the lineup, despite poor production this year from the first, second, and fifth places in the order.
On Sunday, Micah Hoffpauir got his 24th crack at the fifth spot, second most after outfielder Milton Bradley, and went 1-for-3 with a walk. Center fielder Kosuke Fukudome and Bradley, however, went a combined 0-for-10 out of the top two spots.
Although Bradley and Fukudome have .380 and .375 on-base percentages, respectively, Chicago media sources have begun to speculate that the Cubs will be in the market for a top-of-the-order hitter during the offseason.
Los Angeles Angels third baseman Chone Figgins, who will hit the open market as a free agent this winter, has been the most-discussed name. Other potentially available fits could be Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura or Carl Crawford, or Dodgers second baseman and free agent-to-be Orlando Hudson.
Meanwhile, after Sunday's game, Piniella was intent upon finding a new player to hit behind Ramirez in 2010. That void will be tougher to fill, although Chicago could try to do so from within by moving left fielder Alfonso Soriano or catcher Geovany Soto up in the order.
If they do intend to look outward, they could angle for Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, whom Florida will reportedly look to trade, rather than pay him an arbitration salary in the range of seven million.
As Chicago continues to evaluate what they have in place, they look forward to series beginning Monday against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. Some measure of the intrigue this series promised in April is gone, both teams have fallen short of expectations and out of contention.
But these rivals will still have plenty of motivation, as Jeff Suppan and Ryan Dempster square off Monday night. The season series stands at 6-4 Cubs, with seven games remaining between the two teams, including four at Wrigley this week. The all-time series favors the Cubs by a count of 94-86.
Dempster has worked into the seventh inning in each of his last seven starts, but is just 4-3, with 20 earned runs in 45-1/3 innings over that span.
Shortstop Ryan Theriot will look to continue his success against the Brew Crew this season; he has 12 hits in 37 at-bats and four stolen bases without being caught in 10 games.
Lee is just three runs batted in short of his second 100-RBI season, after he drove in 107 in 2005.