Sub-.500 Cubs still right in Central race

CHICAGO -- With a 15-17 record, the Chicago Cubs are hardly lighting the league on fire, but in the National League Central, they’re still in the thick of things. No one in the division is pulling away from the pack and Cubs manager Mike Quade considers it a plus that his team is still within shouting division of first.

“[We’d] like to be better off a month and a half from now, but we’ll see,” Quade said. “Until somebody takes the mantle and runs away with [the division], I’d just like to be in the hunt.”

The Cubs are currently in fourth place in the Central, trailing the first-place St. Louis Cardinals by three games. The Cincinnati Reds trail the Cards by 1.5 games and the Pittsburgh Pirates are 2.5 off the pace. The Cubs wrap up a three-game set with the defending NL Central champion Reds on Sunday and the rival Cardinals come into town on Tuesday.

Quade knows that it won’t be an easy task for the Cubs team to get to the top of the Central and stay there.

“It’s a very interesting division,” Quade said, “Whether it’s this series, the next series, or a series a month from now, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Of course, former Cubs and current Cardinal shortstop Ryan Theriot stoked the flames of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry over the winter by claiming that he was “on the right side” of things now that he had landed in St. Louis. However, Quade didn’t seem fazed by Theriot’s remarks.

“I put very little behind what anybody says, whether it’s Ryan or anybody else,” Quade said, “If we’re concerned what he’s saying and forget about [Matt] Holliday, [Lance] Berkman and [Albert] Pujols, we’re in big trouble.”

Quade clearly has bigger concerns than getting in a war of words with Theriot. The immediate matter at hand would be today’s starter Ryan Dempster. Dempster has struggled for most of the season (8.05 ERA), but shook off early control issues in his last start -- he walked the first two batters of the game on eight pitches -- to deliver his best performance of the season (7 IP, 2 ER, 5 K, 2 BB).

“Getting through the first inning was huge, velocities were fine, I thought he had a better, crisper slider,” Quade said. “It’s not rocket science, when you see that, he’s usually going to pitch well.”

Quade emphasized that when Dempster is locating his breaking ball, he looks much more like the pitcher we’ve seen the previous three seasons, rather the one who struggled in April.

“I’m just looking for a good start,” Quade said. “He’s confirmed many times over who he is in how he pitches. “We didn’t see that a lot early, but we’d love to see him get on a roll as I would [with everyone on my team].”