Cubs complete improbable sweep

Tribune staff reporter

It certainly isn't the heights that are making the Cubs giddy all of a sudden.

Not considering they are still in the depths of the National League Central, 15 games behind the Cardinals.

But completing a four-game sweep of the division leaders with a 6-3 victory Sunday had winning pitcher Carlos Zambrano thinking big thoughts—and it wasn't about his emerging entry into the race for the NL Cy Young Award.

"It's too soon to think about that," said Zambrano, who won his ninth straight decision. "I just want to keep pitching for my team and get into the pennant race. I'm one of those guys who never gives up. When you have an "x" [in the standings] that says you're eliminated is when you give up."

And Zambrano said it wasn't the incessant heat that had him thinking dizzy thoughts.

"I come from a country where the weather is the same [as the last few days]," the Venezuelan said.

What has happened is the Cubs applied some heat to the Cardinals, sweeping them in a four-game series for the first time since July 1972.

"It starts bringing out all kinds of positive thoughts," Todd Walker said. "You start thinking, 'Wow, that would be cool if we could reel off about 15 in a row and get right back in it.' When play good like that you start thinking you can do it."

There's nothing wrong with playing the "what if" game, except that this is July 31 and fourth place should be a more realistic goal given the 58 games remaining.

But it does make one wonder, what has changed of late? After all, Derrek Lee is on the disabled list again and Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are winless, just like they were when the Cubs couldn't win two in a row.

"That's the million-dollar question, 'Why can't we do this all year long?'" Walker said. "There's a certain part of this game that's unexplainable, as you saw the last four games."

"It's one of those where you look back and say, 'If this had started six weeks ago…'" reliever Bob Howry said.

It was about six weeks ago that Zambrano started his amazing run of victories that has left him tied for the most victories in the league (12) and among the leaders in earned-run average (3.26).

On Sunday, he outpitched defending Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, who fell to 10-5 and gave up five runs for only the fourth time in 21 starts. In fact, Carpenter gave up those five runs in the first two innings with Phil Nevin, Jacque Jones, Ronny Cedeno (homer), Walker and Aramis Ramirez getting the RBIs.

Zambrano didn't give the Cardinals a run until the fifth, then left after six innings and another run. He became the first Cub to win six games in a month since Rick Reuschel went 7-0 in August 1979.

"I can't say enough about Big Z," manager Dusty Baker said. "[And] the bullpen came in and did an outstanding job."

Roberto Novoa, Will Ohman, Howry and Ryan Dempster finished it off, with Dempster pitching for the fourth straight day, this time in a non-save situation.

"I told [Baker] I was ready," Dempster said. "I felt good."

Not so the Cardinals, who have lost seven straight games at Wrigley Field.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad