Although staff ace Carlos Zambrano has struggled with inconsistency, the Chicago Cubs have been one of the hottest teams in the majors over the past two weeks thanks to outstanding pitching from the rest of the staff.
Zambrano looks to put some shaky starts behind him and will try to help the Cubs win their fourth straight series as they wrap up a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
After Chicago (16-15) used eight pitchers in Tuesday’s series opener—a 4-3 loss on 15 innings—Jason Marquis threw a three-hitter in Wednesday’s 1-0 win.
“My delivery is as consistent as it’s ever been. I feel like I’m repeating the same delivery over and over again and that’s the reason, I really believe, for the success,” Marquis said after winning his fifth straight start.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano provided all the offense the Cubs would need with his 34th career leadoff homer. Soriano is batting .365 (27-for-74) during a 17-game hitting streak, and all three of his home runs this season have come against Pittsburgh.
The Cubs have won nine of 11 since April 25 and their staff has posted a 2.49 ERA in those games - the second-best in the majors in that span.
Chicago’s starting pitchers have allowed four runs in their last four games since Zambrano (3-2, 5.80 ERA) gave up four in the first inning of his last start on Friday. The two-time All-Star quickly settled down after that and threw five shutout innings in a 6-4 win over Washington.
After tying for the NL lead with 16 wins last season, Zambrano has been erratic in seven starts so far—he’s given up at least four runs four times, but three or fewer in his other three outings.
Zambrano had won seven straight decisions over the Pirates from 2003-05 before going 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA in three starts last season. He yielded 10 runs in 7 1-3 innings in his two starts against Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field, where he has a 7.04 ERA over three starts in 2007.
Pittsburgh (14-18) has lost eight of its last 11 games, and has been shut out twice in its last five.
“You can’t win if you don’t score a run,” manager Jim Tracy told the Pirates’ official Web site.
Ryan Doumit doubled with two outs in the seventh on Wednesday, extending his hitting streak to a career-high nine games. He’s 15-for-30 with five doubles and two homers during his run.
Pittsburgh’s Paul Maholm (1-4, 5.51) tries to rebound from a couple of poor outings and looks to avoid losing three straight starts for the first time in his career.
After throwing a three-hit shutout for the first complete game of his career en route to a 3-0 win over Houston on April 24, the left-hander has allowed nine runs and 14 hits in 7 2-3 innings over his next two starts.
The left-hander gave up three runs and seven hits in a season-low 3 2-3 innings in a 10-0 loss to Milwaukee on Friday.
“Paul had a tough time,” Tracy said. “He had difficulty when he got to two strikes. He had difficulty making a two-strike pitch.”
Maholm is 2-0 with a 4.86 ERA in three career starts versus the Cubs.
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