The two teams at the top of the NL wild card standings begin a three-game set at Wrigley Field as the Cubs take on the Padres.
While Chicago’s chances to win the NL Central have likely gone by the wayside, trailing first-place St. Louis by 11 1/2 games, San Diego has lost six of seven to fall 6 1/2 games behind NL West-leading Los Angeles.
“When you’re falling short, the frustration builds up,” Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Cubs lead the wild-card race by two games over San Diego, which is percentage points ahead of San Francisco. Chicago hosts the Dodgers for three games following this series.
“Everybody we’re playing has a chance. It’s a big week,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
Mark Prior hopes to get the week off to a good start for Baker.
The right-hander is coming off his first win in six weeks, having struck out eight in six scoreless innings of Thursday’s 5-1 win at Colorado. Prior, who missed the first two months of the season with right Achilles’ tendinitis, had given up 13 runs in his previous 16 innings.
“He looked great,” Cubs catcher Paul Bako said of Prior, who went 18-6 last year. “I think he’s had great stuff since he’s come back.”
Prior would benefit from Sammy Sosa also getting on track.
The Cubs slugger is hitless in a season-high 15 straight 15 at-bats, striking out seven times. Sosa hasn’t gone five consecutive games without a homer, let alone a hit, since July 4-9.
“Most of it is probably pitch selection,” Baker said of Sosa’s slump. “He needs to be more selective. You’ve seen the guy struggle before.”
The Padres also would like to see a pair of their big bats regain their power stroke.
The Padres went 5-8 during that stretch, capped by Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh.