Cubs Polish Postseason Credentials

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are playing like a team that's poised for a postseason run.

The Pirates are playing out the string, with an eye on next year.

The Cubs mashed four homers and overcame a bumpy start to manhandle the Pirates, 9-5, on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

The victory reduced the Cubs' magic number to six in the NL Central Division race, as the regular season enters its final week.

"They're playing at an extremely high level right now," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "You can tell they're beginning to see the finish line."

The Pirates have lost eight in a row. With a new general manager expected to be hired in the next day or two, every loss casts more doubt on Tracy's job security for 2008.

Yesterday's game also had implications for Pirates left-hander Zach Duke.

It was Duke's first start since June 28, after he spent two months on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis. All season, Duke has been trying to regain the dominant form he showed as a rookie in 2005.

Duke (3-8) gave up five runs on nine hits, walked three and struck out four. Tracy said he saw more life on Duke's pitches than he did earlier this season.

Because he showed signs of promise, Duke will be given one more start. He likely will pitch Friday against St. Louis at PNC Park.

"I definitely think the quality of my pitches is better," Duke said. "I want to establish that I'm still a good pitcher. …