(Sports Network) - The Chicago Cubs may have been shocked at first by Lou Piniella's sudden retirement, but the team appears to be handling the changing of the guard at the managerial position quite well.
Chicago goes for a sweep of its initial series under interim skipper Mike Quade when the club completes a three-game road set with the struggling Washington Nationals this evening.
Piniella had planned to retire at the conclusion of this season, but the 66- year-old switched gears and stepped down following the Cubs' 16-5 loss to Atlanta on Sunday. The three-time Manager of the Year pushed up the timetable in order to spend more time with his ill mother in Florida.
Chicago had lost six of its final seven games with Piniella at the helm, but has won the first two tests since Quade was promoted from third base coach. After cruising to a 9-1 victory over the Nationals in Quade's debut on Monday, the Cubs built a comfortable early lead and held on for a 5-4 triumph in last night's middle test of this series.
Former Nat Alfonso Soriano staked Chicago to a quick advantage by belting a three-run homer in the top of the second inning, with Tyler Colvin connecting on a two-run shot in the fourth to put the Cubs ahead by a 5-0 count. The two long balls enabled Carlos Zambrano (5-6) to notch his fifth win of 2010 after the veteran starter yielded just one run and five hits while fanning eight batters over a season-high 7 1/3 innings.
Both homers came against Washington lefty John Lannan (5-6), who surrendered five runs (four earned) in five innings to suffer the loss, the sixth in eight games for the Nationals.
"Soriano has hurt us in this ballpark a number of times," said Washington manager Jim Riggleman. "John battled him tough and threw some good pitches, but Soriano won that battle."
Zambrano retired 13 men over a 14-hitter stretch before being chased by Nyjer Morgan's one-out single in the eighth. Reliever Sean Marshall got the Cubs out of the inning unscathed, but closer Carlos Marmol ran into a heap of trouble in Washington's half of the ninth.
The Nationals loaded the bases on two walks and a base hit before Adam Kennedy laced a two-out double into the right-field corner to clear the sacks and pull his team within 5-4. Marmol would retire Ryan Zimmerman on a fly ball that was caught near the warning track in right, however, to end the threat and the game.
"You do this sometimes and he's lights out," said Quade about Marmol. "Other times he's not, but I'll tell you that more times not you leave here winning. Just get it done, and he did."
Chicago now tries to remain unbeaten under Quade and win three straight contests for the first time since July 5-7 when it takes the field tonight behind the streaking Ryan Dempster. The right-hander has amassed a 3-0 record along with a stellar 1.65 earned run average in four August starts and sports a 4-1 ledger over eight outings since the All-Star break.
Dempster did have a three-start win streak come to an end in Friday's matchup with the Braves, although he certainly pitched well enough to prevail. The native Canadian worked eight innings that day and held Atlanta to two runs on four hits, but wound up without a decision after Marmol blew a save chance in the ninth.
The 33-year-old has been Chicago's most consistent hurler this season, having generated an 11-8 record with a solid 3.56 ERA over 26 starts, and he's 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA in 21 lifetime appearances (13 starts) against the Washington/Montreal franchise. That lone defeat did take place on April 28 of this year, however, after Dempster was reached for three runs in eight innings of a 3-2 verdict.
Dempster will be opposed tonight by a former teammate in ex-Cub Jason Marquis, who's endured a miserable first season in the nation's capital. The free-agent pickup has lost all six of his starts thus far in 2010 and managed a horrid 11.39 ERA over those games, in addition to missing nearly four months after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow.
Marquis did have an encouraging performance in Philadelphia this past Friday, however, as he held the Phillies to one run on four hits in five innings of work. The right-hander still received a loss, however, when his team was shut out by a 1-0 count.
The 32-year-old went 25-18 for the Cubs during the 2007 and 2008 seasons before matching a career high with 15 wins with Colorado last year. He's 4-6 lifetime versus Chicago with a 4.42 ERA over 13 games (12 starts).
Chicago has now won six straight times over the Nationals in Washington, but dropped two of three tests between the teams in the Windy City back in April.