Dempster looks set for NLDS in loss

Dempster looks ready for NLDS

MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Dempster is ready for the postseason but apparently so are the Milwaukee Brewers.

Rickie Weeks belted a three-run homer in the seventh to spark the Brewers to a 5-1 victory over the Cubs Friday and take a one-game lead in the National League Wild Card race.

The Brewers now have a little breathing room over the New York Mets, who lost to the Florida Marlins, 6-1. Whoever wins the Wild Card will determine the Cubs' opponent in the NL Division Series, which begins Wednesday at Wrigley Field. If Milwaukee wins, the Cubs will play host to the West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

"We're trying to win every game we play and we're not throwing in any towels," Dempster said. "We have our regulars in there and guys in situations and we're trying to do what we need to do to win."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella isn't working on scouting reports for all possible scenarios.

"It doesn't matter to us," Piniella said. "Whoever we play, we play. I saw where the Phillies won, I saw where the Mets lost, I saw where Milwaukee won."

What about the White Sox?

"Their game wasn't over," he said.

The White Sox did lose Friday, but so did the Minnesota Twins, so the other Chicago team is a half-game back in the American League Central and still in contention for a playoff spot.

Piniella is thinking about the NLDS.

"For us, right now it looks like the Dodgers," he said. "We'll know by this weekend, I guess. We've just got to play whoever we play but we have to play better than tonight. It won't matter who we play if we don't play better than we did tonight."

The Cubs' only concerns heading into this final regular-season series were sorting out the bullpen for the playoff roster and healing minor injuries. Geovany Soto, who has had some soreness in his left hand, came out of the game after wincing on an awkward swing in the sixth. He expected to take Saturday off as a precaution and be back in the lineup Sunday.

Dempster is set. The right-hander, who will start Game 1 of the NLDS, tuned up by throwing 80 pitches over five innings and gave up one run on four hits while striking out four. He's the first Cubs pitcher to finish the season with an ERA under 3.00 and 200 innings since Carlos Zambrano did so in 2004 (2.75 ERA, 209 2/3 innings). Dempster compiled a 2.96 ERA, which ranks among the NL leaders, and totaled 206 2/3 innings this year.

"I wanted to go out there and try to win the game," said Dempster, who finished the year with a career-high 17 wins. "I knew I was going to be on a shorter pitch count so your chances [of winning] are a lot lower because you're not going to be in there as long. I was just trying to attack the zone and throw strikes. I knew they'd be ready today. It was a good battle.

"For me, I have another start five days from now and I'm going to go out there and be ready for that one," he said.

Piniella is trying to give players a chance to catch their second wind and still field a competitive team.

"It's a fine line getting people work and trying to win baseball games," he said. "It's not that darn easy. It's very difficult in fact, especially when the other team needs to win and you're just playing. It wasn't a good ballgame. We had a balk, catcher's interference, bad baserunning. Outside of that, we played well."

Jim Edmonds hit his 20th homer of the season, and 19th with the Cubs, with one out in the second inning off starter Jeff Suppan. The Brewers tied the game in the second on Jason Kendall's two-out RBI double.

The Cubs continued their bullpen audition after Dempster was pulled. Milwaukee had two on and one out in the sixth against Sean Marshall (3-5) when Jeff Samardzija took over, and the rookie got J.J. Hardy to pop up, but Corey Hart dropped a single in front of left fielder Alfonso Soriano to break the tie.

Weeks connected off Chad Gaudin with one out in a weird eighth in which pitcher Seth McClung (6-6) batted for himself, reached on catcher's interference and advanced on a balk call.

"We've been trying to get Gaudin ready for the postseason and that's not coming along well," Piniella said. "We're in a little bit of what you could call a transition [regarding the bullpen] but we'll be fine when Wednesday comes along and we'll get everything back in place."

Gaudin has missed some time because of back problems.

"I felt good, I felt strong," the right-hander said. "I felt I was throwing the ball the way I wanted to. I just didn't get it done."

There is one good thing to come out of Friday's games: The Houston Astros were eliminated from the Wild Card and the Cubs will not have to play a Hurricane Ike makeup game on Monday.

"I wasn't looking forward to going anywhere Monday except back to good ol' Chicago," Piniella said.

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