Notes: Soriano drills 12th leadoff shot

Notes: Soriano hits 12th leadoff shot

CINCINNATI -- Alfonso Soriano will finish the regular season with 12 leadoff homers for the Cubs after launching a 1-0 pitch from Cincinnati's Homer Bailey into the left-field seats at Great American Ball Park on Sunday.

What's even more impressive is that seven of those leadoff blasts have come in the final month.

"You don't see too many teams with a leadoff hitter with [33] home runs," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It gets you a quick lead. In playoff time, I don't think it'll rattle the pitcher, but during the season, it can."

Soriano now has 14 homers in September, a club record. He passed Ernie Banks, who hit 13 in September 1957.

His shot off Bailey also was his 44th career leadoff homer. Whoever faces him in the National League Division Series had better be ready.

"His strength is to be an aggressive hitter and hit the ball and hit it with power," Piniella said. "That's not going to change."

Scorecard: The Cubs didn't know who their opponent will be in the National League Division Series heading into Sunday's regular-season finale, but Piniella does have his lineup set for Game 1, except for who will catch.

Soriano will lead off and play left, followed by shortstop Ryan Theriot, first baseman Derrek Lee, right fielder Cliff Floyd, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, second baseman Mark DeRosa, center fielder Jacque Jones and the catcher. Carlos Zambrano will start Game 1 of the NLDS, which opens on Wednesday.

Piniella said he will chose between the experienced Jason Kendall or rookie Geovany Soto, who was MVP of the Pacific Coast League.

"It depends on the team we play and the speed of the team," Piniella said. "I think Soto has caught most of our starters now."

Mike Harkey, the Triple-A Iowa pitching coach who worked with Soto all season, said the rookie is ready.

"This is actually a good team for him to come up on," Harkey said. "There's not a lot of pressure for him to call games. He's got a lot of veteran pitchers here who have enough confidence in calling their own game. Him being able to know what the pitcher's secondary option is crucial."

When Soto wasn't catching, he would talk to Harkey about how to work with the pitchers.

"He takes the fact that a pitcher isn't doing well very personally," Harkey said. "He thinks it's his fault. One of the things I've tried to get across to him is try not to get creative with guys who don't have the kind of stuff to be creative. Evaluate them first and foremost with fastball command. If they have fastball command, you can be creative."

Soto was passed over this season as several of his Minor League teammates were called up to the big leagues. He didn't sulk.

"He was disappointed, but if he wasn't disappointed, then we would be disappointed," Harkey said. "You're supposed to be disappointed when guys are passing you by.

"It actually helped him [to not get called up], because he was able to be the everyday catcher and he almost won the batting title," Harkey said. "It was a quality year all the way around as far as his growth as a professional baseball player."

National League Division Series schedule
Chicago Cubs vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Wed., Oct. 310 p.m.Chase Field TBS
Thu., Oct. 410 p.m.Chase Field TBS
Sat. Oct. 66 p.m.Wrigley Field TBS
*Sun. Oct. 71 p.m.Wrigley Field TNT
*Tue. Oct. 910 p.m.Chase Field TBS
Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Wed., Oct. 33 p.m. Citizens Bank Park TBS
Thu., Oct. 43 p.m. Citizens Bank Park TBS
Sat. Oct. 69:30 p.m. Coors Field TBS
*Sun. Oct. 710 p.m. Coors Field TBS
*Tue. Oct. 96:30 p.m. Citizens Bank Park TBS
* If necessary. All times ET.

If the Cubs face a left-handed starter, they would stick with Jones in center and use right-handed-hitting Matt Murton in right in place of Floyd.

"We'll try to stay as solid defensively as we can," Piniella said.

The Cubs do know they'll open the NLDS on the road, no matter who they face. They were to fly to that site after Sunday's regular-season finale unless there is a logjam among the NL Wild Card teams, and then the Cubs would return to Chicago.

Celebrate: The visitors' clubhouse at Great American Ball Park still smelled like stale champagne on Sunday, two days after the Cubs' celebration.

DeRosa sprayed his share of champagne, but on Saturday night, he was checking out YouTube to see some of the video footage of the party.

"In Atlanta, it was a handshake and 'Nice job,'" DeRosa said.

The Cubs definitely topped that. Rookie Carmen Pignatiello was packing some souvenirs from Friday night and took a whiff of his "Central Division Champions" cap.

"It smells good," Pignatiello said. "It smells like victory."

Frat house: The Cubs' rookies survived their hazing on Saturday night. The players dressed in costumes, ranging from Batgirl to Raggedy Ann, and had to walk from Great American Ball Park to Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. There was a stage there, and Cubs closer Ryan Dempster introduced each player and had them do a little dance. Yes, there was a crowd of people -- there a lot of Cubs fans in town this weekend and it was quite a parade.

"The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger," Pignatiello said. "It was a lot of fun -- I enjoyed it."

Been there, done that: The Cubs have 16 players on the current roster who have playoff experience. That's huge.

One National League scout now watching the team said the other thing that bodes well for the Cubs is that they travel well and have tremendous fan support. Opening on the road won't hinder them at all.

"I've talked to them already," Piniella said. "The real pressure was getting to the playoffs. They've been through a lot of that. I don't think I need to talk to anybody. I think the experience they've gone through is much more beneficial than anything I can say."

Homer hanky: The Cubs entered Sunday's game with 42 home runs in September. They combined for 43 in June and July, and 32 in July and August. They've hit more than 42 in a month only five times in franchise history. The 2004 team slugged 48 homers in August that year. In August 1987 and June 1998, the Cubs totaled 47 homers. They hit 44 in May 2000, and 43 in May 1999.

Extra bases: The last time the Cubs started and ended a season against the same team was in 1991 against the Cardinals. Both the season opener and the season finale were played at Wrigley Field. They last started and ended the season at the same road park in 1960 against the Dodgers at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

On deck: Zambrano will start Game 1 of the NLDS on Wednesday. The site and time are to be determined. This will be Big Z's fourth postseason start.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.