After reclaiming the lead for the National League wild card, the Chicago Cubs hope Mark Prior can help them maintain the slim advantage as they continue a three-game series with the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium.
The Cubs dropped the last three games of their four-game set with surging Houston over the weekend, but bounced back to the take Monday’s series opener 5-2. They moved a half-game ahead of idle San Diego and one in front of San Francisco, which lost at Atlanta on Monday, for the wild-card lead.
Prior got his first win in three weeks Thursday, beating the Astros 8-3 at Wrigley Field. The right-hander, who was making his 15th start after missing the season’s first two months with right Achilles tendinitis, gave up two runs, seven hits and struck out eight over six innings. Prior is 2-1 over his last five starts, allowing three runs or fewer four times during that stretch.
Rookie Terrmel Sledge hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning Monday for the Expos, who lost their third straight and fell to 3-5 on a season-high 13-game homestand.
Sledge is batting .455 (10-for-22) with a homer, three doubles, a triple and five RBIs over his last six games.
Montreal will start Livan Hernandez, who leads the team in wins (9) and ERA (3.79). He also tops the majors in innings pitched at 201 2-3.
The Cuban right-hander lasted just 5 1-3 innings in a 10-3 home loss to Los Angeles on Thursday. He gave up six runs, seven hits and a season high-tying five walks, falling to 0-2 with a 5.97 ERA over his last three starts.
Hernandez was 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four starts before the slide.
Chicago’s Sammy Sosa is hitting .348 (16-for-46) with six homers and 15 RBIs in his career against Hernandez. The 15 RBIs are tied for his most against any pitcher. Sosa also has 15 against Arizona’s Shane Reynolds.
Sosa enters hitting .345 (8-for-23) with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs in his last six games since voluntarily dropping himself into the fifth spot in the batting order. The All-Star right fielder was 2-for-4 with two RBIs Monday.