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updated: 8/11/2011 7:33 PM

Cubs stay hot, hot, hot

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  • Carlos Marmol worked out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam and managed to pick up his 26th save as the Cubs beat the Nationals 4-3.

      Carlos Marmol worked out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam and managed to pick up his 26th save as the Cubs beat the Nationals 4-3.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs' Aramis Ramirez pumps his fist after hitting a two-run home run off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, scoring Reed Johnson, during the seventh inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

      Chicago Cubs' Aramis Ramirez pumps his fist after hitting a two-run home run off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, scoring Reed Johnson, during the seventh inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Chicago Cubs' Marlon Byrd scores from first on a triple by Cubs' Alfonso Soriano off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

      Chicago Cubs' Marlon Byrd scores from first on a triple by Cubs' Alfonso Soriano off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

 
 

When last we checked with Cubs minister of culture Carlos Pena, things weren't so hot in that area.

That was back on July 31, when the Cubs didn't make a deadline deal.

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The culture seems on the upswing now.

Including that Sunday night in St. Louis, the Cubs have gone on a 9-2 run, ending with Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

Oh, there are still plenty of problems, some of which reared their head in Thursday's game. And the record is still a paltry 51-67.

But Pena, who was on the back half of back-to-back homers with Aramis Ramirez in the Cubs' 3-run seventh, has kept the faith. It was he who talked "culture" change on July 31.

He says he sees better things.

"No doubt," he said. "I'm not lying when I say that I feel good things coming for us. I wouldn't keep saying that even though sometimes it's hard to believe and hard to stay positive for all of us, not only the players, but the fans and the entire Chicago Cubs family. It's tough sometimes to believe because of how difficult the season has been and how difficult past seasons have been.

"I understand how difficult it can be to think positive and be optimistic. But I mean it when I say it. I mean it when I say that I feel good things are coming. We've played pretty good baseball here the last couple of weeks. I'm very pleased to see that. It's been a lot of fun."

Among the positives have been consecutive series wins over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Washington. Ryan Dempster won his 10th game Thursday. The 2 home runs gave the Cubs 21 in their last nine games.

"We're playing better," said Dempster, who is 10-8 with a 4.70 ERA. "We're playing better baseball, and we're having more fun. We've got a tough task coming up these next three days.

"These guys are playing really well in Atlanta, and hopefully, we can go there and give them a good battle and just try to win a game tomorrow. Take that approach and not look at anything else. If we just come every day and try to win that day, it will be a lot more fun down the stretch."

Dempster gave up 3 hits and 1 run in 7 innings. Things got interesting late, though, both with strategy and execution.

The 3 runs in the seventh gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead. In the bottom of that inning, manager Mike Quade used speedy outfielder Tony Campana as a pinch hitter but did not leave him in the game for defense over left fielder Alfonso Soriano.

Sure enough, Ian Desmond led off the Washington eighth with a double to short left-center. Soriano looked like he got a late jump, and he couldn't reach it.

"With a 3-run lead at the time, I thought we'd leave Sori in there," Quade said. "We have been doing that in the ninth inning unless Sori's at-bat comes up in the eighth. Campy probably makes that play. But given the situation, we decided not to do that."

Desmond came around to score before Kerry Wood, the third Cubs reliever of the inning, struck out two to end it.

In the ninth, closer Carlos Marmol loaded the bases with nobody out but limited the damage to 1 run as he gave up 2 hits, walked two and struck out two, throwing 34 pitches. Marmol came away with his 26th save.

"Marm gutted it out," Quade said. "That was something. I'm out of breath. It's been like three (days) on, three off for him. When you ask a guy to come back the third day, I was a little worried. But he's done that many times before. He wasn't as sharp, obviously.

"They got an infield hit. He could have collapsed at any time and didn't. He got back in the strike zone when he needed to. Just a gutsy performance when he didn't have his stuff."

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