Jason Marquis has been an enigma over the last two seasons in Chicago, showing great promise in one start before frittering away all the goodwill he built up in the next.
"That's the type of performance you expect from a veteran pitcher," Piniella said. "Obviously not every time out, but at the same time, with more consistency."
Marquis (4-3) allowed one run on three hits over 61/3 innings in his best start since April. After Juan Pierre's first-inning single, Marquis retired the next 12 batters before James Loney singled leading off the fifth.
He left in the seventh after issuing his first walk, but Carlos Marmol bailed him out of the jam, survived a scary eighth and watched Kerry Wood pitch a perfect ninth for his league-leading 18th save.
The Cubs are 18-5 against West Division teams, and reached the 40-win mark three weeks earlier than they did last season. They finished with a 4-3 record on their West Coast swing, the first time since the opening trip to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia they've had a winning record on a road trip.
"Our home record (26-8) speaks for itself," Marquis said. "We've played great at Wrigley this year, and we just wanted to take that attitude and demeanor on the road. To come out 4-3 is definitely a good feeling.
"We don't feel dejected on the road. It's just one of those things that we've been teetering around .500. Hopefully something will click here soon. We've got a lot of road games coming up, so hopefully we can make a turnaround."
If Marquis can make a complete turnaround after two uninspiring months, the Cubs' rotation should be ready to dominate for the rest of the year.
Marquis has always been a streaky pitcher, and the key is getting his hot streaks to outlast his cold ones.
"Jason's more than capable," Mark DeRosa said. "Jason sometimes becomes his own worst enemy. He sometimes doesn't realize how great his stuff is. When he's on, he's tough to hit."
Batting in the No. 2 hole while shortstop Ryan Theriot rested, DeRosa had three hits, including a first-inning homer off Brad Penny (5-8) and an RBI double in the fifth.
Aramis Ramirez added a run-scoring double in the fifth to complete the scoring.
"Outside of the first two days in San Diego, we really haven't hit the ball very well," Piniella said. "But neither have the teams we have been playing against."
Among the Cubs slumping through the road trip were the Nos. 3-6 hitters: Derrek Lee (5-for-27), Ramirez (5-for-27), Kosuke Fukudome (3-for-18) and Geovany Soto (2-for-19). While the Cubs are hitting .309 at Wrigley Field and only .254 on the road, they've never lost more than two games in a row.
Wood has been on three postseason teams with the Cubs in '98, '03 and '07, but doesn't think those years compare to this one.
"This is different," he said. "There's a different feeling here. One of those years we surprised people (in '98) and a couple of those years we thought we had a pretty good team.
"But I think we all kind of know we have something special here, so we'll try to take advantage of it."