Chicago dropped Monday’s series opener but has won the last two games. The Cubs are still in third place in the Central, but they have pulled within 1 1/2 games of the Astros and a game of second-place St. Louis.
Moises Alou, who had three superb seasons in Houston, hit a three-run homer Wednesday as the Cubs beat the Astros 6-4.
Alou has 18 homers and 75 RBIs this season after managing just 15 home runs and driving in 61 during a disappointing 2002 campaign—his first in Chicago.
“Last year was a terrible year for me and the team,” Alou said. “I was hurting most of the time and we were playing badly. It was a nightmare. … This year is different.”
The Cubs have won three of four, and Wednesday’s game was a rare strong one offensively for a Chicago team that was held to three runs or fewer in seven of its previous eight games.
The only thing missing for the Cubs in this series so far has been a home run from Sammy Sosa, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Wednesday. Sosa needs to homer in the finale of this series to extend his streak of series with at least one homer to 13. He set a National League record in 1998 when he homered in 15 consecutive series.
Houston has lost three of five. The Astros are just 8-11 since taking a season-high four-game lead in the division following a victory over Milwaukee on July 23.
STANDINGS: Astros - 1st place, NL Central. Cubs - 3rd place, 1 1/2 GB, NL Central.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Jared Fernandez (1-1, 3.72 ERA). Fernandez has split a pair of starts since being recalled after starter Roy Oswalt was injured. After beating Florida in his first start, the knuckleballer surrendered three runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday. He is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four games, including one start, against Chicago.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Matt Clement (9-10, 4.08 ERA). Clement had won two straight starts before Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander, who turned 29 on Tuesday, yielded five runs and six hits, including two homers, in five innings. He is 2-4 with a 6.54 ERA in eight career starts against Houston.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Astros - Richard Hidalgo, .309 avg.; Jeff Bagwell, 27 HRs, 72 RBIs and 78 runs; Bagwell and Adam Everett, 6 SBs. Cubs - Mark Grudzielanek, .305 avg.; Sosa, 28 HRs and 76 RBIs; Kenny Lofton, 71 runs and 23 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Cubs, 7-5.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Astros - Houston is just 2-4 at Wrigley Field this season after posting a winning record there in each of the last six years. … Hidalgo hit his 21st homer Wednesday, moving within four of tying Alou’s team record for a right fielder, set in 2001. … OFs Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio are both 1-for-11 in the series. Cubs - The Cubs have scored six runs in Clement’s last five starts. … INF Augie Ojeda has started four straight games but is hitless in 14 at-bats since being called up Aug. 3. … OF Lofton is batting .414 (29-for-70) with 15 runs scored in 19 games against the Astros this season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Astros - 28-33 on the road; Cubs - 30-30 at home.
INJURIES: Astros - INF Jose Vizcaino (wrist), 15-day DL; LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Roy Oswalt (groin), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 60-day DL. Cubs - INF Mark Grudzielanek (hand), 15-day DL; OF Tom Goodwin (hamstring), 15-day DL; OF Corey Patterson (knee), 60-day DL; RHP Scott Chiasson (elbow), 60-day DL; LHP Will Ohman (elbow), 60-day DL.