Alou looks to keep his strong hitting going as the Cubs and Astros continue their weekend series at Minute Maid Park.
On Friday, Alou went 3-for-4, including a two-run, go-ahead homer in the eighth, leading the Cubs to a 5-3 win in the series opener.
Alou, who had not hit a homer since July 5, snapped a three game slide in which he was just 1-for-9. The 37-year-old outfielder, who played for the Astros from 1998-2001 before signing with the Cubs, has a career .344 average at Minute Maid Park.
The win ended a three-game losing streak and moved Chicago, which entered the night one game below .500 for just the second time this season, to within 4 1/2 games of the first-place Astros.
But manager Dusty Baker, who managed the NL champion San Francisco Giants last season, said that he’s keeping the importance of the series in perspective.
“It’s a very important weekend but it’s not make or break,” he said. “Last August, we (the Giants) were 11 out and we still went on to the World Series.
“Make or break makes it sound like you have to sweep. We don’t have to sweep. What you have to do is not get swept and try to not lose any more ground and gain ground. We have 60 games left. A whole bunch can happen in 60 games. Look at our first 60 and our second 60.”
STANDINGS: Cubs - 3rd place, 4 1/2 GB, NL Central. Astros - 1st place, NL Central.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Juan Cruz (1-3, 6.92 ERA). The right-hander was recalled from the minors to take the starting spot of the injured Mark Prior. Cruz went 4-0 with a 2.01 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Iowa before being called up. This will be the first major league start of the season for Cruz, who made 18 relief appearances for Chicago before being sent down in early July. He is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in six career games against Houston.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Tim Redding (6-9, 4.13 ERA). Redding gave up five earned runs and seven hits in just 2 1-3 innings of a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates—his fifth loss in seven decisions. He is 1-2 with a 4.60 ERA in seven career appearances, including four starts, against the Cubs.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cubs - Eric Karros, .330 avg.; Sammy Sosa, 21 HRs; Aramis Ramirez, 67 RBIs; Kenny Lofton, 59 runs; Tom Goodwin and Lofton, 19 SBs. Astros - Richard Hidalgo, .321 avg.; Jeff Bagwell, 21 HRs; Lance Berkman, 65 RBIs and 71 runs; Adam Everett, 6 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Cubs, 4-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - RHP Prior, on the disabled list since July 12 with a bruised right shoulder, will throw for the first time on the side Saturday but could be sidelined at least seven to 10 more days. … 3B Aramis Ramirez, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, committed his 25th error in his 99th game Friday, matching his career high set in 158 games in 2001 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first-inning error led to three unearned runs. Astros - CF Craig Biggio has reached base safely in 29 consecutive games. … The Astros have won every season series against the Cubs since 1993, posting an 87-52 (.626) record. … Houston has outscored opponents 95-57 in the first inning.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 27-24 on the road; Astros - 32-19 at home.
INJURIES: Cubs - OF Goodwin (hamstring), 15-day DL; RHP Prior (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Scott Chiasson (elbow), 60-day DL; LHP Will Ohman (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Corey Patterson (knee), 60-day DL. Astros - INF Jose Vizcaino (wrist), 15-day DL; LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL.