Brad Penny had been the National League’s All-Star Game starter earlier that summer, and even if he hadn’t been the same since, even if his second-half numbers had been grossly inflated, well, the rest of the team was too busy trying to save the season to worry much about it. Right now, as the Dodgers are making a furious, late-season push toward what they hope will be an eventual playoff berth – and they took another step on Tuesday night, beating the Chicago Cubs, 6-2, before 37,834 at Wrigley Field for their seventh victory in their last nine games – Penny is giving them no such cause for concern. It’s true that he had another stellar first half, and that he made another All-Star team. It’s true that he has fallen off slightly since then, quadrupling his loss total from one to four, and his second-half ERA is more than a run higher. It’s true that he is walking more batters now, 31 of them in 681/3 innings since the All-Star break after he issued just 34 in 1152/3 before. But it’s also true that Penny was, is and apparently will remain for the rest of this season the unquestioned ace of a rejuvenated starting rotation that is responsible for six of those aforementioned seven wins. And it’s also true that Penny, despite perhaps not having his best stuff and giving up seven hits in seven innings, held the free-swinging Cubs to just two runs (one earned) in a win that further legitimized the Dodgers’ once-laughable belief that they are really, truly still in this thing. BASEBALL: Staff ace the clear leader of the Dodgers’ recent surge. By Tony Jackson STAFF WRITER CHICAGO – This time last year, as the Dodgers were making a furious, late-season push toward an eventual playoff berth, everyone kept trying to ignore the fact their staff seemed to be in free-fall. This is still Penny’s rotation. The other four guys are just pitching in it. “He is giving us quality starts, and that’s all you can ask him to do,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “You still have to look at (the season) as a whole. I think there is a microscope where everybody wants to point to first half/second half, but if you give your team a quality start and lose, 3-1, 3-2, or maybe the pen comes in and gives it up, that doesn’t mean you didn’t do your job. A starter’s job is to … give you a chance to win.” With the exception of one start against the Angels way back in May, Penny has done that every time he has taken the mound this year. Even in his previous outing, when he got torched for six runs in five innings a week ago against Washington, the Dodgers came back from a five-run deficit to win in the 12th. The Cy Young Award, for which Penny once seemed destined, now seems farfetched. But that has more to do with the late-season dominance of San Diego’s Jake Peavy than with any second-half drop-off, real or perceived, on the part of Penny. And if Penny hasn’t been as airtight since the break, that also has a lot to do with the abdominal injury he suffered running to first base on July 26 at Colorado, after which he went almost three weeks without a win. What he also didn’t do in those three weeks was miss a start. “(The injury) hasn’t disappeared,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “But this guy is still throwing the ball well.” Honeycutt said the injury never affected Penny’s pitching, at least not directly. What it did affect was his ability to stick to his normal, between-starts workout routine. That in turn might have prevented him from maintaining his peak condition, which in turn might have led to some mild fatigue, which in turn might have led to the 5-3 record and 3.56 ERA he now sports for the second half after he went 10-1 with a 2.41 ERA before the break. The Dodgers (73-65) were off Thursday, and Little opted not to skip anyone in the rotation, giving every pitcher a fifth day between starts. The result for Penny (15-4), as it always seems to be, was that he was fresh, strong and, if not unhittable, certainly unbeatable. The Dodgers pounded out 14 hits off Steve Trachsel (0-1) and three Cubs relievers. Trachsel was making his Cubs debut after being acquired from Boston on Friday. firstname.lastname@example.orgWant local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!