Big Z leads hot-hitting Cubs hurlers

Big Z leads hot-hitting Cubs hurlers

NEW YORK -- Scouts doing their postseason prep work can't just look at what the Cubs' pitchers do on the mound. They've got to pay attention to what they do at the plate, as well.

Jason Marquis delivered his first career grand slam and the sixth home run by a Chicago pitcher in Monday's win over the Mets. Carlos Zambrano, who will start Wednesday in Game 3 of this series at Shea Stadium, has four of those blasts.

How good have the Cubs' No. 9 hitters been? So far, they're batting a combined .224 with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs. Those numbers include pinch-hitters, not just pitchers, but that's more production than the Cubs' No. 2 hitters, who are hitting .263 with five home runs and 48 RBIs this season.

No other National League team has gotten double-digit homers from the No. 9 spot, and the second-most RBIs is 54 by Arizona. The Cardinals usually bat the pitcher eighth, and their No. 8 hitters have combined for eight homers and 52 RBIs this season. St. Louis' No. 9 hitters have two homers and 36 RBIs.

To take this one step further, seven American League teams have gotten double-digit home runs from their No. 9 hitters, with the Rangers leading the pack with 17 dingers and 73 RBIs. Only three AL teams -- Cleveland, Detroit and Texas -- have produced more RBIs from the ninth spot in the order than the Cubs.

"We've got good athletes on this team, guys who can handle the stick," Marquis said. "I pride myself on every aspect of the game, and we take it seriously, the five of us, yet we still have fun with what we do. From bunting to getting guys in with men on third to squeeze plays, I think it speaks a lot to our ability."

Zambrano provides the power while Ryan Dempster ranks among the leaders in sacrifice bunts. Is there competition among the pitchers?

"We've never set anything up formally," Marquis said. "I know 'Demp' and [Ted] Lilly had a little inside thing going. I'm down for any competition. Whether I'm good or bad, I'll try my hardest and try my best. We take a lot of [batting practice] and have fun in [batting practice]."

Zambrano has generated one of the best offensive seasons by a pitcher in years. According to STATS Inc., his .354 average is the highest since Orel Hershiser hit .356 for the 1993 Dodgers. Prior to Hershiser's big year, the most recent pitcher to post a higher average than Zambrano was Don Newcombe, who hit .359 in 1955 and .361 in 1958.

Big Z also has been one of the most prolific home run-hitting pitchers in the past 40 years. He has 16 in eight seasons from 2001-08, tops among hurdlers since 1965. Mike Hampton hit 15 in his career, and Don Robinson, Fergie Jenkins and Steve Carlton each hit 13.

"'Z's' power numbers are incredible," Marquis said.

Here's another little tidbit on Zambrano: He hasn't drawn a walk in his last 217 plate appearances. That's the longest active streak in the Majors.

But on Wednesday, the Cubs want to see which Zambrano shows up. Will it be the dominating composed right-hander who threw a no-hitter on Sept. 14, or will he struggle, as he did in his last start on Friday, when he gave up eight runs on six hits over an abbreviated 1 2/3 innings. Prior to that outing, Zambrano had flown home to Venezuela to attend his grandmother's funeral. His legs were weary.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella wants to align his postseason rotation, and has yet to name his No. 1 starter for the National League Division Series. It could be Zambrano, it could be Dempster or it could be Lilly, depending on the opponent and how the starters do in their final games.

One thing is certain: they can hit.

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.77 ERA)
Zambrano lasted 1 2/3 innings in his last start against the Cardinals, much to the disappointment of the 40,000-plus at Wrigley Field. It was his first start since his no-hitter on Sept. 14. Against St. Louis, he gave up eight runs on six hits and three walks. It was his shortest outing since a 1 1/3-inning start Sept. 4, 2006, against Pittsburgh.

NYM: LHP Oliver Perez (10-7, 4.10 ERA)
Perez's last outing can be considered a success in at least one respect: He appeared done after five innings and 97 pitches, but gave the Mets an additional effective inning -- his most impressive of the night -- to prevent a shaky bullpen from clocking into work even earlier. Perez still hasn't regained his form from a nearly untouchable July, but he has managed to post two consecutive strong outings, both against the same team -- a not-so-small fact that makes the task tougher. He'll finally face a fresh opponent, the Cubs, on Wednesday, marking his first start against them since 2005.

Tidbits
The Cubs are the cover story in this week's Sports Illustrated. Don't panic. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox were on the SI cover six times and still won the World Series. ... Marquis' grand slam was the sixth by a Cubs pitcher. The others were by Larry Corcoran, on June 20, 1882; Claude Passeau on May 19, 1941; Ox Miller on Sept. 7, 1947; Burt Hooton on Sept. 16, 1972; and Kevin Tapani on July 20, 1998. Corcoran's slam was the first in Cubs' history and also an inside-the-park homer. That game was played at Lake Front Park. Passeau and Hooton hit their slams at Wrigley Field. ... Game 1 of the NLDS will be played Oct. 1 at Wrigley Field. Time and opponent are to be determined. ... The Cubs and McCormick Foundation have teamed up to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Ike. ... Piniella said the Cubs may try some things in the final week. "There are a lot of advance scouts watching these games," he said. "We can give them some things to write about and think about." ... Zambrano was honored before Tuesday's game as the Latino Pitcher of the Year for 2007 by the Latino Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association. He received a painting of himself in the ceremony, which was originally scheduled to be held in Chicago, but was postponed.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• WCIU, ESPN

On radio
• WGN 720

Up next
• Thursday: Cubs (Rich Harden, 10-2, 2.03) at Mets (Pedro Martinez, 5-6, 5.50), 6:10 p.m. CT
• Friday: Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 17-6, 2.99) at Brewers (TBD), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Saturday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 16-9, 4.17) at Brewers (Ben Sheets, 13-8, 2.98), 2:55 p.m. CT

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