To avoid losing their third straight game, the Houston Astros must overcome a pitcher who has dominated them all season.
The Astros (57-60) lost to San Diego 7-2 on Sunday, their second consecutive defeat following a four-game winning streak.
Houston had won three straight series before losing to the Padres, and is 3 1/2 games behind Cincinnati in the wild-card race after trailing by just 1 1/2 on Friday.
“We’ve still got a lot of good things going on right now,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “We’d at least like to have won the series while we’re at home, but we couldn’t seal the deal. Now we’ve got to get back on track.”
Lance Berkman is 6-for-12 with two homers and three RBIs in his last three games, but is batting just .136 (6-for-44) with three homers and 13 strikeouts in his career against Zambrano (12-5, 3.54 ERA).
Zambrano has been struggling recently, but has been superb against the Astros this season. He has allowed just two runs in 23 innings in three starts against Houston, going 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA in those games.
The right-hander allowed one hit in eight innings of an 8-0 win over the Astros on June 5, and allowed one run and two hits while striking out 10 of a 4-1 win on July 20. In the only game he did not get a decision, on June 15, he gave up one run and five hits in seven innings, but the bullpen gave up two runs after he left and the Cubs (49-68) lost 3-2.
He is 7-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 18 career games against Houston.
Zambrano, though, has lost his last two starts. He has not lost three consecutive outings since July 7-24, 2004.
The All-Star allowed six runs in 4 2-3 innings of 6-3 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday after giving up five runs and a season-high nine hits in six innings of a 6-0 defeat to Pittsburgh on Aug. 4.
“I’m not tired. I still have some gas in my tank,” Zambrano said. “I remember from the first month of the season when I was 0-2 with an ERA of 5-point something. I have to get a new streak and get out there and get hitters out.”
The 25-year-old right-hander was 0-2 after seven starts, but won 12 of his next 13 decisions, and nine straight from June 5-July 30.
The Cubs defeated Colorado 8-7 on Sunday behind Ryan Theriot’s pinch-hit three-run double in the eighth inning.
Aramis Ramirez hit his 28th homer of the season and his 12th since the All-Star break. The third baseman is 11-for-48 (.229) with three homers and 10 RBIs in his career against Monday’s Astros starter, Roy Oswalt (9-7, 3.27).
Oswalt is 3-0 with a 3.51 ERA over his last four starts, and his next win will give him double-digit wins in each of his first six seasons in the majors.
The right-hander allowed one run and four hits in six innings of a 14-1 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and also hit his first career home run.
“It was pretty exciting,” Oswalt said of the homer. “It felt like winning the first game in the big leagues. Pretty much the same thing. I always wanted to get at least one.”
Oswalt is 10-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 21 career games against the Cubs.
Houston has won eight of 12 meetings with Chicago this season.