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Cubs finish road trip strong after miserable start

Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano heads indugout after hitting solo home run against HoustAstros fifth inning baseball game Wednesday Sept. 12

Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano heads into the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Houston Astros in the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

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Updated: September 13, 2012 12:36AM

HOUSTON — Travis Wood should get four more starts down the stretch for the Cubs.

Outfield prospect Dave Sappelt might even get a few more opportunities than originally thought based on the way he has looked the last few nights (one baserunning play Tuesday notwithstanding).

Will it be enough to quiet the critics and doubters who have bemoaned the loss of relief ace Sean Marshall ever since the Cubs traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for those two guys last winter?

If nothing else, the pair offered a glimpse of potential validation during a 5-1 victory Wednesday over the Houston Astros, even if winning pitcher Wood dodged the question when asked about it.

“Like I said before, the ball’s coming out good. I’ve been able to locate pitches,” he said. “I just want to finish the season strong and show them I can handle a full season and everything and see what happens.”

Wood (6-11), who went 10 consecutive starts without a victory, has won back-to-back starts since, allowing a total of one run in 13 2/3 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Astros, including a stellar 7 2/3 innings Wednesday.

How? Why?

“I guess good luck, good Lord. I don’t know,” he said.

But his run of strong starts actually goes back three weeks, and five starts, with four quality starts in that stretch and a 2.43 ERA.

Meanwhile, outfield prospect Sappelt has gone 7-for-13 with four doubles and three RBI in the last four days, including three starts.

He probably is headed back to the bench Friday, when Brett Jackson returns to the outfield. But he made an impression, beyond the gaffe Tuesday when he got thrown out at third for the third out on a would-be sacrifice fly, negating a run in a 1-0 loss.

“He’s proven one thing that we knew when we got him, about his bat,” manager Dale Sveum said. “I know he didn’t have that great a year in Triple-A, but he was swinging the bat pretty well the last month, and the bat has always been something that’s been appealing about him.”

Between Wood’s pitching and Sappelt’s 3-for-3 hitting with a run — not to mention Alfonso Soriano’s continued big production — the Cubs finished what some had dubbed the road trip from hell with a 5-5 mark after taking five of six in Pittsburgh and Houston.

“Not a bad finish after what went on in Washington,” Sveum said.

Perhaps not coincidentally the rush of winning started after the Cubs shoved back in a bench-clearing incident Thursday as the Washington Nationals were finishing off a four-game sweep.

“The way that Washington played, that motivated everybody here,” said Soriano, who hit his 29th home run of the season and added a run-scoring single to boost his season RBI total to 96. “They’re a first-place team, and two, three years ago, they were like us; everybody beat Washington. Now they’re a very good team, they play hungry and I think everybody in here saw that and we started to play like they played us.”

For his part, Soriano finished a triple short of the cycle Wednesday, drew a walk and made a leaping catch against the wall that he turned into a double play by throwing out Justin Maxwell, who was rounding second in apparent disbelief that Soriano had a shot at the catch.

“Total package tonight,” Soriano said with a big smile.

Maybe even a late MVP push, someone kidded.

“I don’t want to talk about MVP,” he said. “I just want to talk about my defense, that play that I made. That makes me more happy because I’ve improved my fielding and am proving to other people I can be a good outfielder.

“I’m working so hard with [coach] Dave [McKay] to prove to those people they’re wrong and I have the talent and ability to keep playing outfield.’”

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