Ramirez homers as MLB-leading Cubs pour it on Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A day after cautioning his team that this is no time to sit around, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella got plenty of production up and down his lineup. What he liked most was that much of it came from his new prize pupil, Kosuke Fukudome.

Aramis Ramirez homered and drove in three runs and the Cubs improved baseball's best record by again beating the team they torment the most, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 12-3 Monday night.

Two slumping hitters, Jim Edmonds and Fukudome, also had big games as the Cubs improved to 81-50 -- the first time they've been 31 games above .500 since they ended the 1984 season 96-65.

The Cubs are 12-4 against the Pirates, who dropped into a tie with idle Cincinnati for the worst record in the NL Central.

Fukudome, hitting .161 in August when the game began, drove in four runs with a sacrifice fly, a two-run single during a five-run fifth inning that made it 10-1 and an RBI double. He has six RBIs in five at-bats in two games following a pregame hitting session Sunday with Piniella, a .291 career hitter during his lengthy major league career.

"He sure does have a keen eye for a lot of little things," Fukudome said, laughing, while speaking through a translator.

The adjustments consisted mostly of shortening what was becoming Fukudome's widening stride to the plate and, Piniella said, "When you're a good hitter, you can make adjustments pretty quick."

"He looked pretty impressive to me. He drove the ball, he hit hard and he hit it to all fields," Piniella said. "He's looking like the hitter he was early in the season. ... We'd like to get him back to the No. 5 hole, and if he keeps swinging the bat like that, that's where he'll be."

The Cubs, winners of 23 of 31, didn't need nearly that much offense to back Ted Lilly's seven effective innings. The left-hander gave up homers to Brandon Moss and Adam LaRoche but still dealt the Pirates their fifth consecutive loss and ninth in 11 games.

Edmonds added three extra-base hits, a triple and two doubles, after going 0-for-17 over his previous seven games. He hit his second triple of the season and scored on Fukudome's sacrifice fly in the second against Jeff Karstens (2-3), who was pulled after allowing five runs and six hits over three innings.

"I haven't been swinging the bat well and I needed to square some balls up and, hopefully, that will get me going and I can contribute again to this team that's playing so well," Edmonds said.

In his first start after being traded by the Yankees to the Pirates last month, Karstens shut out the Cubs over six innings at Wrigley Field on Aug. 1. He didn't make it to the fourth inning this time, needing 35 pitches to get through the four-run third.

"I didn't throw strikes and, when I did, they hit them," Karstens said. "It's a good lineup from top to bottom and, even though they had some guys who were struggling, they can hit."

Ramirez's three-run homer in the third was his 23rd and it put the Cubs ahead 5-0.

"[Karstens] wasn't hitting his spots and you can't do that against this lineup," Pirates manager John Russell said.

Fukudome's two-run single came during a five-run fifth against reliever Jason Davis.

Lilly (13-7) struck out seven and walked one in the Cubs' 11th victory in their last 12 road games. Chicago has won 15 of its last 19 against Pittsburgh.

"It's definitely nice when we're swinging the bats the way we're capable of," Lilly said.

The Pirates are 7-16 since trading left fielder Jason Bay to Boston on July 31, a week after sending right fielder Xavier Nady to the Yankees. Since the Bay trade cost them their most productive offensive player, the Pirates have scored more than five runs only twice and have been held to three runs or fewer 15 times.

Maybe the schedule has something to do with the Pirates' latest late-season slide, one that has left them eight losses from a major league record-tying 16th consecutive losing season. They are playing all but three games this month against winning teams.

Game notes
Pirates CF Nate McLouth returned to the lineup and went 1-for-3 after missing five starts with a stomach flu. ... The Pirates received Triple-A catcher Robinson Diaz from Toronto as the player to be named in the Aug. 21 trade involving third baseman Jose Bautista. ... This is the final Cubs-Pirates series of the season. ... The Cubs are one of the majors' top draws -- except in Pittsburgh. The crowd was announced at 14,454. ... Fukudome's four RBIs set a career high. He left Japan to sign with the Cubs this season. ... The Cubs' 17 hits were two off their season high of 19 on May 23, also in Pittsburgh.