Ryan Dempster further raised his trade value with eight shutout innings, pitching the Chicago Cubs past the Minnesota Twins 8-2 on Sunday.
After an 18-start winless streak dating to last August 11, Dempster (2-3) won his second game this week, another gem for this Cubs team that brought the worst record in the majors into the afternoon. He scattered four singles, walked one, hit a batter and struck out six, three by Joe Mauer, to help the Cubs win for only the fifth time in their last 25 games.
Dempster lowered his ERA to 2.31, and the Twins lost for just the third time in 12 games.
Alfonso Soriano, who homered three times in the first two games of the series, hit another ball hard, a two-out double in the first inning that drove in the first run against Francisco Liriano (1-7). Left fielder Josh Willingham had trouble tracking the ball, turning back and forth in the bright sun until Soriano's drive glanced off his glove.
Soriano batted .316 with 12 RBIs and eight runs on this 10-game trip, and the Cubs won against a left-handed starter for only the third time in 16 tries this year. David DeJesus drove in three runs, and Reed Johnson and Starlin Castro scored three times each.
Liriano retired 13 of the next 14 batters after that to lock with Dempster in a legitimate duel of likely-to-be-dealt-soon pitchers until faltering in the sixth and failing to complete that inning.
Like Dempster, Liriano is in the final year of his contract for a non-contending team, though his erratic performance earlier this season and last will make it harder for the Twins to gain quality prospects in return.
The 35-year-old Dempster, however, has been the rock of the rotation for the reeling Cubs. He has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts and finished six or more innings 10 times.
Dempster threw 38 of his first 47 pitches for strikes and dug deep when he did find trouble against a Twins team batting .302 with runners in scoring position since May 16 entering Sunday. Justin Morneau grounded out with two runners on to end the first. Mauer struck out to finish the third with a man on third. Ben Revere bounced out to end the fifth with two on base.
After two strong starts in his return to the rotation, Liriano regressed a bit but was still in fine form for most of his appearance. He gave up four hits, four runs and three walks in 5 1-3 innings to leave with a 4-0 deficit, but he struck out six and could've matched Dempster's scoreless streak had a ball or two bounced another way.
The leadoff walk to Johnson, who started the game with a single, cost him badly in the sixth. Castro followed with a sharp double, DeJesus drove in a run with a groundout and Joe Mather's RBI double prompted the pitching change by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
Ryan Doumit's sacrifice fly against Cubs closer James Russell in a non-save situation in the ninth finally put the Twins on the board, and Jamey Carroll tacked on an RBI double.
NOTES: Neither team plays Monday. The Cubs host Detroit Tuesday, with LH Paul Maholm (4-5, 5.10 ERA) pitching against RH Max Scherzer (5-4, 5.88) of the Tigers. The Twins stay home and play Philadelphia, sending RH Nick Blackburn (2-4, 7.75) to the mound against Phillies RH Kyle Kendrick (2-5, 4.44). ... The Twins need another starter in six days, and Gardenhire said RH Liam Hendriks could be called up from Triple-A Rochester. Hendriks, who started the season in the rotation before being sent down in May, struck out 10 in 8 2-3 shutout innings for the Red Wings Saturday. ... Cubs manager Dale Sveum on the team's pace to pass the franchise record for most losses in a season, 103 in 1962 and 1966: "You have to change the pace. ... You laugh about it, but it's definitely there."