Back on May 10, the Cubs were 16-16 and seven games behind Milwaukee in the Central Division. On Sunday, they are 22-26 and five games behind the Brewers despite Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"What's amazing," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, "was going back to the Philadelphia series, the New York series, and Chicago [White Sox], and San Diego, it was a tough stretch against good teams. We've actually outplayed those teams and not won as many as we should have.
"Looking at it from that perspective, if you keep playing teams, sooner or later you're going to start beating them with regularity. We're in good position. Milwaukee has come back a little bit and the rest of the teams in our division, they've struggled some, too, along with us. We've got to keep plugging along."
The three-game set against the Dodgers is the Cubs' fifth straight series against a team with a winning record.
"I expect our bullpen to get better," Piniella said. "If our starting pitching can maintain, we'll be in good shape with our pitching."
Penmanship: The Cubs relievers will be taking a little different approach from now on, and work on better pitch selection.
They need to "pitch to both sides of the plate," Piniella said. "Change the eye level of the pitches, instead of staying down, and elevate the ball. Just to make it a little more difficult for the hitter to zone in on you."
Lefty Scott Eyre needed to do just that in the eighth inning Sunday. Instead, he served up a game-tying solo homer to pinch-hitter Andre Ethier. It was Eyre's first game since May 20.
"I made a bad pitch," Eyre said. "I don't make any excuses."
The lefty now is 0-for-4 in save opportunities, has an 0-1 record and an 8.16 ERA. How is he dealing with things?
"Some days are harder than others," Eyre said. "Today is a hard one to swallow because [starter Rich Hill] pitched so good. My teammates are keeping me above water right now."
Eyre is coming off a good season with the Cubs when he appeared in 74 games and compiled a 3.38 ERA. This year has not been as good.
"So far this year, I've been throwing a lot," Eyre said. "There's a difference between pitching and throwing. I got where I'm at because of what I used to do. I've got to get back to that. If it's every six days, so be it."
Eyre reported to Spring Training in good shape and had dropped a few pounds. He says he feels better physically than he has in a long time. Maybe that's the problem.
"Maybe I should just get fat again," he said.
His teammates have rallied behind him.
"Every guy in this locker room put their hand on my shoulder and said, 'Go get 'em next time,' " Eyre said after Sunday's game. "That's huge for me."
Eyre hasn't been spending the West Coast trip on the beach. He's been working in the bullpen with pitching coach Larry Rothschild on his mechanics.
"We freshened him up," Piniella said. "It'd be a big help if we can get him going."
Welcome home: Shortstop Cesar Izturis started Sunday, his third straight start. Dodger Stadium was Izturis' former home field, and he was a very popular player in 2004 when he hit .288 and won his first Gold Glove.
"I played here four years and I know this field, I know these people," Izturis said. "It makes me feel good to be here."
He entered Sunday's game 6-for-15 on the road trip (.400), and has hit safely in 16 of his last 21 games since April 24, batting .338 in that stretch.
Piniella has inserted Ryan Theriot at short in 10 games, but Izturis is getting more regular playing time lately.
"I want to keep doing my job and when I'm playing, I try to do my best," Izturis said.
Hot bat: Aramis Ramirez did not start Sunday, a rare day off. The third baseman was batting .444 (16-for-36) in his last nine games with three homers, a triple, two doubles and eight RBIs. It's tough to keep him out of the lineup.
"He's done well, and he's worked his way up the leaderboard, home run-wise," Piniella said.
But Ramirez needs a day off.
"The amazing thing is that's how you keep them playing better," Piniella said. "We've got to start resting the team. The weather is getting hotter, and we're two months into the schedule."
Derrek Lee got an unexpected week off because he was bothered by neck spasms, while Alfonso Soriano missed time to heal his hamstring. Piniella wasn't worried about days off for Izturis, Theriot or Mark DeRosa because they are rotated in and out of the lineup.
Makeup date: The Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals will make up the April 29 postponed game as part of a single-admission day-night doubleheader on Sept. 14 at Busch Stadium. The first game will be at 1:40 p.m. CT, followed by the nightcap at 7:40 p.m. CT.
The April 29 game was postponed because of the death of Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, killed in a car accident early that morning.
Extra bases: Expect to see catcher Henry Blanco and Carlos Zambrano paired together again. Blanco was behind the plate Saturday when Zambrano picked up his fifth win. "He pitched well with him yesterday and I guess when Blanco goes out there he can speak a little Spanish with Zambrano," Piniella said. ... Wade Miller gave up one run on five hits and three walks over five innings in Triple-A Iowa's 13-8 win over Oklahoma. It was his third rehab start. Miller was expected to join the Cubs in Chicago on Monday. ... Cubs general manager Jim Hendry missed the West Coast trip so he could scout some of the top amateur players who will be available in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. The Cubs have the third pick overall in the draft, which will be held June 7-8.
Minor matters: Eric Patterson had three hits, including two triples, and four RBIs in Iowa's win over Oklahoma. Geovany Soto hit his fourth homer of the year, a three-run shot. Scott Moore had two hits. ... Donnie Veal gave up seven runs on nine hits over four innings in Double-A Tennessee's 9-7 win over Jacksonville. Casey McGehee had two hits, including a three-run homer. ... Jeff Samardzija gave up two runs, one earned, on four hits and one walk over five innings in Class A Daytona's 2-1 loss to Fort Myers. He's now 0-4 with a 4.82 ERA. ... Class A Peoria's game vs. Wisconsin was postponed because of rain. The two teams will play a doubleheader Monday, starting at noon CT.
And, the Iowa Cubs added pitcher Jim Henderson from Tennessee, and pitcher Matt Avery was promoted from Daytona to Tennessee. Henderson was acquired in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft last December, and picked up the win Saturday, pitching in relief.
On deck: Sean Marshall will kick off the Cubs' six-game homestand Monday against the Florida Marlins. Marshall faced the Marlins twice last year, including a win April 25 when he held them to two hits over seven shutout innings. On May 22, 2006, he took the loss, and gave up seven runs on seen hits over 3 1/3 innings. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on Comcast Sports Net.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.