Piniella feels Cubs close to rebounding

Piniella feels Cubs close to rebounding

SAN FRANCISCO -- With one more win, the Cubs will have three straight winning seasons for the first time since they did it six consecutive years from 1967-72. Lou Piniella would be the first Cubs manager since Charlie Grimm (1933-35) to post a winning record in his first three full seasons.

"It's been that long?" Piniella said. "Hopefully, this will be the start of more success and winning seasons and more success for this organization."

On Tuesday, the Cubs open the final homestand of the year, beginning with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The St. Louis Cardinals officially eliminated the Cubs from three-peating as the National League Central champs Saturday. Chicago is still alive in the NL Wild Card, but will need a miracle to secure a postseason berth.

"We came into this season with more expectations, and they weren't realized," Piniella said.

"It's not as easy to win as people think it is. You've got to stay healthy -- that's the big thing in today's game. Teams that can keep their players on the field have an advantage, and for us, we struggled in that department. At the same time, that's why you have a 40-man roster, that's why you have Minor Leagues, so you can get help when you need it."

It hasn't helped that the Cubs' ownership situation has been in flux all year. Piniella has yet to meet with Tom Ricketts, but hoped to during the organizational meetings. He'll probably give Ricketts his wish list at that time. Here's a little preview.

"We're not far away from from getting close to where we were last year," Piniella said. "I don't know about 97 wins [which they accomplished in 2008], but to compete and win a division again, we're not far away. A little touch here, a little touch there. You don't need a whole lot of things, so from that standpoint, [general manager] Jim [Hendry] is going to have a busy winter."

His No. 1 priority? Having Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto return healthy and productive. Both missed time because of injuries and fell far off their numbers of 2008.

"No. 2," Piniella said, "is to add a real nice RBI bat to this equation."

Where would he play? That's to be determined. The Cubs could use more speed and could possibly add that at second base and center. Piniella would like to move Kosuke Fukudome back to right field full time, where he seems more comfortable, so the main opening is center field.

"There aren't too many Ken Griffey Jrs. out there," Piniella said.

OK, so they need to stay healthy and find an RBI guy. What else?

"If you want to keep prioritizing, [a leadoff man] would be the other thing," Piniella said. "If we had the luxury of a third [wish], and I was asked, that would be it. We'll see what Jim can and can't do. He'll do all he can, I know that."

The Cubs are committed to nearly $120 million next year, although $10.333 million of that is owed Milton Bradley, whom Hendry will try to move this offseason. Piniella, Hendry, special assistant Gary Hughes and some of the Cubs coaches have had informal talks during the weekend series in San Francisco about what the team needs, what direction to go.

"We're a little better situated than what people think," Piniella said. "They look at these contracts, but these contracts should bounce back and have productive years."

Don't expect a 40 percent turnover like the Cubs had in 2009.

"Last year we had about 10 changes here," Piniella said. "If we have half that, that's a nice number. Some changes [last year] were out of necessity. I see us being selective in what we do."

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster (10-8, 3.68 ERA)
Dempster did not get a decision in his last start, but did post his seventh quality start in his last 11 outings. He has thrown six or more innings in 26 of his 29 starts. Dempster is trying to finish with 200 innings this year and will make two more starts -- this one vs. the Pirates and in Sunday's season finale. His next win will be No. 87, and he would be the second active pitcher with 87 wins and 87 saves. John Smoltz has 213 wins and 154 saves.

PIT: RHP Kevin Hart (4-8, 5.38 ERA)
Hart did not look good in his last start, one in which he lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up eight runs on eight hits and three walks. It was a step backward for the righty, who, in his previous outing, finally found some consistency with his command and new delivery motion. This time he pitched with hardly any fastball command and never found any rhythm with his slider. This might be Hart's last start of the season and it's one from which he'd like to salvage something positive. Since coming to the Pirates, he is 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA.

Tidbits
The Cardinals clinched the National League Central with a win Saturday. "They clinched -- congratulations to them," Piniella said. "They had a good year." ... Derrek Lee was expected back in the lineup Tuesday. "I need one more day," said Lee, bothered by neck spasms that flared up Thursday. ... Kevin Gregg also should be available Tuesday. He has inflammation in his rib cage. ... As of now, Ted Lilly is scheduled to pitch the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader against the Pirates with Carlos Zambrano in the night game. But Piniella said they could always give Zambrano an extra day and insert Jeff Samardzija on Wednesday if Big Z needs extra time. ... WGN Radio broadcaster Ron Santo will be back in the booth for the final homestand Tuesday. ... Tyler Colvin has been at Wrigley Field, but never in the dugout for a game. Tuesday will be his first look. The outfielder, called up a week ago from Double-A Tennessee, says his parents will come for the final three games of the year.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

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

On television
• WGN

On radio
• WGN 720, WRTO 1200 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 12-8, 3.02) vs. Pirates (Charlie Morton, 4-9, 5.01), 1:05 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 9-6, 3.69) vs. Pirates (Jeff Karstens, 3-5, 5.45), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Cubs (Tom Gorzelanny, 7-2, 4.70) vs. Pirates (Paul Maholm, 8-9, 4.44), 7:05 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.