After a slow start, the Chicago Cubs are finally playing to their expectations.
The Cubs look to extend their winning streak to five games and complete a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals as their series concludes Sunday at Wrigley Field.
Chicago (14-14) has quickly put aside its April struggles, starting May 4-0 and entering this contest with seven wins in its last eight games after a 5-3 victory on Saturday. The Cubs—trying to climb over .500 for the first time since owning a 3-2 record on April 7—are seeking their first five-game winning streak since July 8-15, 2005.
“We’re back at .500. We got off to a slow start with all the expectations we had,” said Chicago closer Ryan Dempster, who pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save in as many opportunities. “We’re just playing better baseball.”
The better baseball has come during a current six-game homestand that continues Tuesday against Pittsburgh. The Cubs lost nine of their first 12 games at Wrigley Field before outscoring opponents 20-10 in winning the last three.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella is putting his faith in Angel Guzman (0-0, 2.45 ERA) to complete the sweep. The right-hander went 0-6 with a 9.28 ERA in 10 starts last year and has made four relief appearances thus far, spanning 7 1-3 innings.
According to Piniella, Guzman, who has yet to record a major league win, will get at least three turns in the rotation.
“I want to be a starter,” Guzman told the Cubs’ official Web site. “All I’m thinking about now is watching the videos and watch myself and what I did as a reliever because I was pitching pretty good. I’m trying to get that rhythm back again.”
The Cubs have not swept a three-game series from the Nationals since June 12-14, 1992, when the franchise was located in Montreal.
In addition to losing their fourth straight game, the Nationals (9-21) also had to expend their bullpen after starter John Patterson left Saturday’s game in the third inning with a sore right biceps. Levale Speigner forced in three runs with bases-loaded walks in that inning, creating a five-run deficit that was too much to overcome.
“I was one of those bad days where you start off 1/8 walking the hitter 3/8 and you start trying to force things,” Speigner told the Nationals’ official Web site. “It just gets worse. I’m used to coming in with guys on. I can’t blame it on anything. I just tried to force things. It’s irritating to walk anybody. I just hate walking guys. It’s unacceptable.”
After using five relievers, the Nationals hope Shawn Hill (2-3, 3.00) can provide a quality start and not overburden the bullpen. Hill has been solid this season, but has had uneven run support from his team. He pitched 6 1-3 innings against the Padres on Tuesday, allowing three runs and four hits in a 3-0 loss. It was the third time this season the team failed to score a run while he was on the mound.
This is Hill’s first time facing the Cubs.
The Nationals are trying to avoid being swept in a series for the second time this season. They dropped four games at home to Arizona from April 5-8.
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