An offseason overhaul has brought new hope to Chicago’s North Side, where the Cubs went just 36-45 last year - the National League’s worst home record. After committing more than $300 million over the winter, the Cubs hope to see significant improvement as they open an eight-game homestand.
So far, the spending spree has had mixed results. The Cubs are 3-3, and outfielder Alfonso Soriano - who signed a franchise record eight-year, $136 million contract this winter - is batting .214 with no home runs and no stolen bases. Last season, Soriano became only the fourth player in baseball history to have at least 40 home runs and 40 steals in a single season.
Chicago, though, took two out of three games in Milwaukee over the weekend to break even on their season-opening six-game road trip.
The Cubs won the first two games of the series, but couldn’t close out the Brewers on Sunday, falling 9-4. They trailed 6-0 before a four-run rally in the sixth inning, highlighted by Derrek Lee’s two-run double. They threatened again in the eighth, but were held scoreless after putting two runners on base with no outs.
“One thing I was glad to see today is that we fell behind six-nothing and we didn’t just roll over,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We came back and made a ballgame out of it.”
The Cubs hope to bounce back against an Astros team they have beaten in four straight meetings.
The Astros, who ranked near the bottom of the majors in most offensive categories in 2006, are struggling with the bats again this season. They managed only three hits in their 10-1 loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
“We looked like we hadn’t had any spring training today,” manager Phil Garner said. “We did not take good at-bats at all.”
Houston has scored only 16 runs to fall to 1-5 on the year, its worst start since opening 1-5 in 1990.
“Clearly, our lineup is not clicking,” Garner said. “We’re not getting on, we’re not getting any movement.”
The Astros expected to get a big boost from slugger Carlos Lee, whom they signed in November to bulk up their anemic offense. Lee, though, is batting .250 (5-for-20) with only one extra-base hit.
Lee is just 2-for-14 in his career against Cubs starter Ted Lilly (1-0, 1.29 ERA), who will take the mound Monday.
Lilly, who signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the Cubs in December, impressed in his 2007 debut, allowing only one run on three hits in seven innings of Wednesday’s 4-1 win at Cincinnati.
The left-hander hasn’t pitched against the Astros since June 10, 2005, when he suffered a loss for the Toronto Blue Jays after giving up four earned runs in six innings.
Houston will counter with its own offseason acquisition, 40-year-old right-hander Woody Williams. The 40-year-old Houston native signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Astros in November after a 12-5 season with the San Diego Padres in 2006.
Williams is 3-8 with a 4.65 ERA in 16 career appearances - including 15 starts - against the Cubs.