CHICAGO -- The Cubs will face the top three teams in the National League Central Division, starting Tuesday when they open a 10-game trip to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
Chicago may be 12 games back, but don't call the Cubs "spoilers," manager Mike Quade said prior to a 5-4 win on Sunday.
"Not right now," he said. "You understand who you're playing. Going into Pittsburgh last time [July 8-10], we had an opportunity to take two out of three and let one get away late. That was encouraging to me because they've been tough on us.
"You always get up for St. Louis," he said. "This whole road trip is a challenge and an emotional lift. I love this. I can't wait to get to Milwaukee and St. Louis and Pittsburgh and enjoy the challenge of playing those guys."
Heading into Sunday's game against the Astros, the Cubs were 14-24 against their Central Division rivals, including 4-3 against the Brewers, 1-5 against the Cardinals and 3-6 against the Pirates.
Cubs string three wins for first time this season
CHICAGO -- The Cubs notched the first three-game win streak of the season on Sunday in their 102nd game of the year, with a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Astros. Only once in team history have the Cubs gone longer into a season without winning three in a row.
In 1966, they picked up their first three-game win streak from Aug. 4-6 in games Nos. 106-108. Six previous times that year, the Cubs won two straight only to lose the third.
The only other time the Cubs ended the month of July without a three-game win streak was in 1960. That year, the Cubs won three in a row for the first time from July 30-Aug. 2 in games Nos. 95-97.
"It took a while but we finally got it done," Byrd said Sunday.
Pena a stabilizing force for Cubs pitchers
CHICAGO -- Sometimes, it seems as if Carlos Pena is on the pitching mound more than the Cubs catcher. Pena never misses a chance to chat with the pitcher, but he has his reasons.
What does he say?
"It can range from a straight joke to loosen them up to get their attention away from the moment that seems to be taking over us," Pena said prior to a 5-4 win on Sunday. "Or, it could be some specific comment to calm them down, or pump them up or a straight, 'Hey, just take a walk around the mound. I've got the rosin bag. They'll get mad at me, not you.' Or, 'We've got your back.'"
The Cubs' first baseman said his teammates tease him about his frequent trips to the mound.
"Guys joke with me all the time about it," he said, laughing. "When it's time, I know it's good to take that extra seven seconds, 10 seconds just to get away. Sometimes, the game seems to go 100 miles an hour and you wish you could just step out. I try to give them a break."
It isn't just to say, "Hello," either.
"When I see the momentum shifting in the wrong direction for us, that's when I tell myself, 'You need to do something to switch it,' so I go in there and interrupt it so it won't flow their way," he said. "When I sense it, I go. Sometimes, I know the umpires don't like it, but I'm looking out for my team."
Has a pitcher ever told him to go away?
"I don't think it'll ever get to that point," he said. "I can tell, this guy likes it, this guy likes the break. I try to learn the pitchers before I do it.
"When I believe it's a must for the team, I do it, regardless of what the pitcher may say," he said. "I think I'm pretty good at sensing it."
For example, he'll often tell Carlos Marmol to simply "go take a walk" so he has a chance to regroup.
What about Matt Garza? He seems pretty amped and Pena has known him the longest from their days together with the Rays.
"It goes from, 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine,' to 'OK, just look at me in the eyes and slow down,'" Pena said.
Cubs manager Mike Quade approves of the conversations.
"[Pena] doesn't miss an opportunity to try and settle somebody down and get involved," Quade said. "Sometimes a guy gets the ball back and it's nice to have somebody next to you going, 'Hey, it's going to be all right.'"
Quade recalibrates rotation before road swing
CHICAGO -- Ryan Dempster, who has a 15-3 career record against the Brewers, will open the Cubs' road trip on Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Cubs manager Mike Quade is keeping right-hander Rodrigo Lopez in the bullpen for now, and he will return to the rotation on Saturday in St. Louis.
The rotation against the Brewers will be Dempster (7-7, 5.00 ERA) on Tuesday followed by Carlos Zambrano (7-5, 4.70 ERA) and Randy Wells (2-3, 6.17 ERA). Matt Garza, who started threw seven innings of a 5-4 win over the Astros on Sunday, will open the three-game set against the Cardinals on Friday followed by Lopez (2-2, 3.55 ERA) and Dempster.
Lopez has posted quality starts in his last three outings.
"He'd be available [in relief] even through the second game in Milwaukee," Quade said. "He's been pretty resilient. His experience is important."
The Cubs were a little shorthanded on Sunday as catcher Koyie Hill and outfielder Reed Johnson weren't available because neither was feeling well. Relievers Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood were also not available, but both volunteered to pitch if needed. Wood had warmed up a few times in the last few days.
Sunday was Byrd's 1,000th career game, and he went 4-for-5 with three runs, a double and a triple. He's hitting .359 with three walks, 10 runs, four doubles, a triple, two homers and four RBIs in 17 games since July 4. The four hits were a season high, and the first time he's done that since July 9, 2010, against the Dodgers.
With Sunday's win, the Cubs are 6-3 in extra-inning games, including a 5-0 mark at home.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.