Two weeks of good baseball put the Twins in position to do something Sunday that they hadn't done in six weeks -- climb the standings.
The fourth-place Royals lost again, so with one more victory over the lowly Cubs, the Twins could have vacated the American League Central basement for the first time since April 29.
But Cubs veteran Ryan Dempster wasn't having it. The righthander blanked the Twins for eight innings, easily outpitching Francisco Liriano, as Chicago cruised to an 8-2 victory.
The Twins are 9-3 in their past 12 games and have won their past four series, so their disappointment was tempered.
"Not a good day for us," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Basically the story was Dempster. He pretty much shut us down."
The Cubs (20-40) went 2-8 on their road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Minnesota, with Dempster notching both victories, his first two of the season. At this point, he is really auditioning for other teams, with Chicago almost certain to move him before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
Dempster is 2-3 despite a 2.31 ERA. He also has 10-and-5 rights -- 10 years in the majors, five with the same team -- so he can veto any deal, but it's doubtful he would balk at the chance to pitch for a contender again.
"I just tried to go out there and battle against a really hot team; they're swinging the bats really well," Dempster said after holding the Twins to four hits. "We were able to put some more runs on the board and avoid a sweep, and we're able to enjoy the plane ride home."
Dempster came in averaging the seventh-worst run support in the National League (3.14 runs per nine innings), but the Cubs grabbed a first-inning lead when Alfonso Soriano lined a two-out RBI double that glanced off left fielder Josh Willingham's glove.
Liriano (1-7) settled into a nice rhythm for the next four innings, but Chicago stretched the lead to 4-0 in the sixth. Liriano issued a leadoff walk to Reed Johnson before Starlin Castro doubled to right field. Liriano was one strike from escaping the inning with the score 2-0, but he bounced a slider to the dirt against Joe Mather for a wild pitch, scoring Castro from third base. Mather followed with an RBI double, and Gardenhire turned to his bullpen.
"I was happy with the way [Liriano] was throwing the ball," Gardenhire said. "He gave us a chance. We just did nothing offensively."
This start wasn't as encouraging as Liriano's previous two, but his ERA over his past three outings is 2.55. He seemed especially frustrated with the wild pitch, which bounced away from catcher Drew Butera.
"Yeah, I was trying to overthrow that one right there," Liriano said. "I was trying to make sure I didn't hang any pitches because I've done that before late in the game."
The Cubs pulled away against the Twins bullpen, scoring two runs against Jared Burton and two against Anthony Swarzak. The Twins finally got on the scoreboard with a pair of unearned runs against James Russell in the ninth.
"It got out of hand a little there at the end," Gardenhire said. "But a good series. You win two out of three, we have to take it. We had a chance to sweep it, but they actually played a lot better than we did today."