After three seasons as the Cubs' closer, Ryan Dempster leads the team in wins, picking up his 15th victory Saturday to match his career high, as the Cubs beat the Washington Nationals, 9-2.
Aramis Ramirez belted a pair of three-run homers and Mark DeRosa added a solo shot, his third in as many games, for three of the Cubs' 13 hits, but the talk postgame was all about Dempster(15-5).
"It starts with pitching," Ramirez said. "We've got great pitching."
The last time Dempster won 15 games was 2001, when he was a starter for the Florida Marlins. Since then, he's been traded, had Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery, been released and been booed whenever he blew a save opportunity with the Cubs. On Saturday, the 40,708 at Wrigley Field cheered him.
Dempster is now 12-2 at home, with a .857 home winning percentage that is the best in baseball. He struck out four and gave up one run, eight hits and one walk over 7 1/3 innings.
"The most I've ever won in my career is 15, and it's nice to get there," Dempster said. "But I'm not going to get complacent. I'm not finished trying to accomplish what we're trying to do here. It's great, it's a nice feeling to have. But at the same time, there's a long way to go and a lot of starts left."
The right-hander had boldly predicted this spring that the Cubs would win the World Series. There were no boasts on Saturday.
"We'll worry about winning tomorrow's game," he said. "I think that's been a good approach so far -- one game at a time."
"He's a good pitcher," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Dempster, who posted his 18th quality start and is tied for second in the National League in wins. "He's dedicated. He's got good stuff. He's on a little bit of a mission."
What mission is that?
"The mission is to win baseball games and help this team win, and get himself a nice contract next year, which he deserves," Piniella said.
Dempster will be eligible for free agency after this season, but he's focused on right now. He has enough starts remaining -- could he win 20 games?
"I don't know," Dempster said. "I'm not worried about that. It's a great personal accomplishment, but my motivation is one reason and one reason only, and that's to get to the playoffs and win the World Series. I'll take 15 wins and a World Series, and I'd be the happiest player in baseball."
The Cubs could have a shot if the offense comes through as it did Saturday.
The first three innings were frustrating, as the Cubs stranded eight runners on base, but they finally clicked in the fourth. With one out, Alfonso Soriano walked, reached third on Ryan Theriot's single and scored on Derrek Lee's single. Ramirez followed with his 21st home run, a line drive into the left-field bleachers, to make it 4-0.
Ramirez showed his all-around ability when he made a stellar defensive play in the fifth, grabbing Austin Kearns' slow roller with his bare hand and making an off-balance throw in time. It was one of the highlights of a quick six-pitch inning for Dempster.
After Soriano's RBI single in the fifth made it 5-0, DeRosa continued to pad his personal highs for home runs and RBIs when he launched his 17th homer with two outs in the sixth.
Ramirez recorded his 21st career multi-homer game when he smashed another three-run shot in the eighth. He's batting .432 with 15 RBIs over his past 11 games. DeRosa is batting .382 in his last 16 games. It's been a team effort to stay on top of the NL Central.
"It's not a two-man show or three-man show, it's a bunch of guys in the lineup who are capable of getting it done," DeRosa said. "Our pitching has been so good and our bullpen has been so solid that, if we score some runs, we should be able to win ballgames."
That's all Dempster's trying to do, too.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.