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CIN@CHC: Dempster tosses six frames of two-run ball

It may seem like a modest milestone, but the Cubs will take inspiration anywhere they can find it. If Chicago can find a way to earn a win over the Nationals in Thursday's series finale, it would represent the first time since September of last season that the Cubs have managed to win three series in a row.

The Cubs, 8-7 in their last 15 games, have seen some mercurial play in the last two weeks. First came a five-game losing skid followed by a seven-game win streak, and now Chicago has lost two of its last three games. The Cubs will embark on a six-game road trip following Thursday's series finale.

The Nationals, meanwhile, will be playing to restore a couple trends. Washington is 16-13 against the National League Central teams this season and has already won the season series against Chicago for the first time since 2006. The Nationals last had a winning record against the Central in 2007.

This game -- the makeup of Monday's opener, which was postponed by rain -- will pit right-hander Jordan Zimmermann against veteran Ryan Dempster. Dempster has worked to a 5-3 record and a 3.26 ERA over his last 11 starts, and he's 2-1 with a 1.84 mark in his last four games against Washington.

Zimmermann, a former second-round draftee, has pitched well in his return to full strength from an elbow injury. The right-hander made seven choppy starts for Washington in 2010 after undergoing reconstructive surgery late in the 2009 campaign, but he's been fairly productive in 22 starts this season.

The 25-year-old struggled to a 1-4 record and a 4.55 ERA through his first five starts, but he compensated by notching a 3.23 mark in May. Zimmermann was unhittable in June -- posting a 0.85 ERA in six starts -- and then regressed to a 4.80 mark in July. Now, he's hoping to finish the season strong.

The Cubs homered three times in Wednesday's win, and they've hit at least one homer in eight straight games. That's their best streak of the year, and they've hit 19 home runs over that span. Chicago's starting pitchers have also notched 16 quality starts -- going 11-5 in those games -- in their last 25 outings.

Nationals: Streaking nothing new for Zimmerman
There's something synonymous about Ryan Zimmerman and double-digit hit streaks. Zimmerman, Washington's third baseman, has hit in 18 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the Majors. The Nationals have had four 17-game hit streaks since 2005, and Zimmerman owns three of them.

His longest, a 30-game tear in 2009, is the only Washington streak longer than 20 games in the last six seasons. Zimmerman is batting .413 (31-for-75) over the life of his streak, but he's hit just five home runs this season. Zimmerman's slugging percentage (.440) is on pace to be the lowest of his career.

Cubs: One run ends, but Castro on hitting tear
Shortstop Starlin Castro snapped a unique streak on Wednesday that had seen him score at least one run in 10 straight games. That was tied with an earlier streak by Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist for the longest of the season, and it was also the longest by a Cub since Mark DeRosa went 10 straight in 2008.

Castro went for just one hit in Wednesday's game, giving him 19 in his last nine games and a league-leading 154 for the season. The 21-year-old has multi-hit efforts in six of his last nine games, and he'll go into the series finale riding a 10-game hitting streak that has seen him hit .440 (20-for-45).

Worth noting
The Cubs unveiled a statue of former third baseman and longtime broadcaster Ron Santo on Wednesday. Santo passed away in December. ... Chicago has scored 66 first-inning runs this season -- most of any inning -- but has allowed its opponents to score 90 runs.

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