The Cubs look to continue their climb in the standings on Friday when they open a three-game set against the Pirates in each team’s final series before the All-Star break.
Chicago (43-41) beat Washington 4-2 on Thursday, winning for the 11th time in 13 games.
The Cubs, who are a major league-best 21-10 since June 3, have pulled within 4 1/2 games of NL Central-leading Milwaukee for the first time since April 29— and they owe some thanks to Pittsburgh.
The Pirates (38-47) defeated the Brewers 6-3 on Thursday, winning three of four over the division leaders.
“The standings take care of themselves when you play good consistent ball,” manager Lou Piniella told the Cubs’ official Web site. “I’ve been saying that. I don’t look at the standings too much. I know if we win series, good things are going to happen and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Six-time All-Star Alfonso Soriano is 17-for-39 (.436) with four homers, five RBIs and nine runs in his last nine road games, and is batting .464 (13-for-28) with three homers and five RBIs in six games against Pittsburgh.
The Cubs and Pirates have split their six meetings this year, with Chicago taking two of three at PNC Park April 30-May 2.
Jason Marquis (6-4, 3.31 ERA) looks to build off his first win in nearly two months for the Cubs in Friday’s series opener.
Marquis gave up one run, four hits and struck out five in seven innings of a 5-1 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday, his first win since throwing a three-hit shutout against Pittsburgh on May 9. The right-hander had gone 0-3 with a 5.28 ERA in his previous nine starts before beating the Brewers.
“It was a nice, positive outing,” Piniella said. “I wanted him to leave with a good solid performance and feeling good about his performance. For a starting pitcher, that’s important.”
Marquis was outstanding in his two starts against the Pirates this season, allowing one run and seven hits in 17 innings in winning consecutive starts over them May 2 and 9. He is 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in his last three starts at PNC Park.
The Pirates have won three straight, and seven of their last 10 following a five-game losing skid. They have not won four in a row since a season-high five-game winning streak from April 22-27.
Adam LaRoche homered twice on Thursday, and has been red-hot during Pittsburgh’s latest surge.
After hitting .211 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs in his first 74 games, LaRoche is batting .459 (17-for-37) with five homers and 12 RBIs during a season-high nine-game hitting streak.
“It feels a lot better than it did two months ago,” LaRoche said. “I always knew it was coming but it’s nice to finally show that I should be here, and I like being the guy in the big spot.”
Paul Maholm (4-11, 4.74) looks to remain perfect against the Cubs when he takes the hill.
Maholm has alternated wins and losses in his last four starts, allowing three runs and six hits over 14 2-3 innings in the victories, but nine runs and 18 hits in 14 innings in the defeats.
On Sunday, the left-hander gave up three runs and nine hits in seven innings of a 3-2 loss to Washington.
In his only start against the Cubs this season, he gave up four runs and seven hits—including three home runs—in 7 1-3 innings of a 6-4 victory on May 10. Maholm is 3-0 with a 4.88 ERA in four career starts against Chicago.