DENVER—The Cubs have to believe in themselves during the final 40 games of the regular season, because few outside the clubhouse believe they have a chance in the bunched-up National League wild-card race.
Before their 5-3 victory over Colorado on Friday at Coors Field, manager Dusty Baker was asked if he still considered the Cubs as being in the race.
ESPN, we're not in there. We're right on the outskirts."
Baker said it was "OK" that many newspapers outside of Chicago list the first five or six teams in the wild-card standings, lopping the Cubs completely out of the picture. They're five games behind Houston after Friday's games.
But the Cubs have won six of their last eight following an eight-game losing streak, continuing a recent trend of following a cold streak with a hot streak. After their first eight-game losing streak in early July, they reeled off eight wins in their next nine games.
"When a streak is good, things are going your way and you're executing fundamentals of the game," right fielder Jeromy Burnitz said. "And when you're not, we're not doing it. We're playing bad 'D,' rough games pitching, not getting runners in. It's always the same thing. But the streakiness? I can't explain it."
Mark Prior threw 118 pitches in six innings, striking out 10 and allowing two runs on five hits to improve to 9-4. Roberto Novoa, Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster finished, with Dempster posting his 19th save in his last 20 opportunities.
"We're playing good baseball right now," Prior said. "As long as we don't get into another funk, we should be all right. I think a lot of people are kind of forgetting about us and the Brewers, but we're right there."
Prior admitted he wasn't as aggressive as he should've been early in the game, leading to the high pitch count. He's averaged 116 pitches per game over his last five starts but has made it to the seventh inning only twice.
"I know I need to get deeper into ballgames," Prior said. "It's something I'm going to work on. Whether it's a mental or physical thing, I need to come out and get through the first couple of innings a lot quicker so I can get deeper into a ballgame. Because that will be the strength of our team if we can go seven or eight as a starting staff."
Prior criticized himself for only two pitches, a changeup to Larry Bigbie that resulted in a one-out double in the second, and fastball to Jorge Piedra that wound up in the right-field bleachers after Prior struck out the first two batters in the fifth.
The Cubs grabbed the lead on Burnitz's bloop, RBI single off Rockies starter Byung-Hyun Kim in the first, but Colorado tied it in the second on Danny Ardoin's run-scoring single off Prior.
Henry Blanco's sacrifice fly in the fourth put the Cubs ahead again, and they added two in the fifth on Todd Walker's solo homer and an RBI single by Aramis Ramirez, making it 4-1. But the Rockies crept back on Piedra's solo homer in the fifth, and Luis Gonzalez's run-scoring single off Novoa in the seventh.
Wood pitched a scoreless eighth, his seventh straight appearance without giving up a run, striking out Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins.
"I don't think it's where he'd like to be for the rest of his career," Prior said. "But right now he's doing everything he can to help us win ballgames."
The Cubs staged a two-out rally off left-hander Brian Fuentes in the ninth, when Derrek Lee and Ramirez reached on infield hits and Burnitz followed with an RBI double to right, his third hit of the day.
"Not much of a typical Coors game," Burnitz said.
The Cubs will take it anyway they can get it.