After moving three games over .500 for the first time in more than a year, the Chicago Cubs look to continue their recent surge as they try to complete a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field on Sunday.
The Cubs (46-43) have won 14 of 18 games - including seven of eight at home - since June 22 to reach their best record since they were 14-11 on May 2, 2006.
They continued their strong play at Wrigley on Saturday, beating the Astros 9-3 behind Ted Lilly’s eight innings of one-run ball and Aramis Ramirez’s four RBIs. Chicago is batting .300 with 29 extra-base hits in its last eight home games.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go,” manager Lou Piniella told the Cubs’ official Web site. “I don’t like to get giggly over things in July. But the team’s playing well, they really are. They’re playing with confidence, and it shows.”
Chicago is looking to complete its third three-game sweep in the last month after recording only one in the first 2 1/2 months of the season. The Cubs have pulled within 3 1/2 games of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
“Everybody is together, so we feel like a team right now,” said Alfonso Soriano, who snapped the Cubs’ 10-game homerless streak with a three-run shot in the sixth inning on Saturday. “Everybody feels like a family, everybody likes each other, and I think we have a very good moment right now.”
The Astros (39-52), on the other hand, have totaled only 12 hits while committing five errors in the first two games of this series. They are batting .193 in five games against the Cubs this season - all at Wrigley Field.
“The disappointing thing for me today is, on a day like today (with the wind blowing out), we didn’t answer offensively,” manager Phil Garner told the Astros’ official Web site. “We started off scoring a run, and then we didn’t do anything offensively. We did not hit the ball at all.”
Houston hopes to rebound behind left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (6-7, 3.87 ERA), who is coming off his two strongest starts of the season. He allowed only three hits in seven shutout innings against Colorado on July 1, and pitched his first career complete game on July 6 to beat the New York Mets 4-0.
“When he locates his fastball, when he’s pitching like he did tonight, controlling both sides of the plate, mixing his off-speed stuff, he’s as good a lefty as there is in the league,” Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said after the win over the Mets. “If he can come out and command his pitches like that, he’s going to be real tough.”
Rodriguez, who hasn’t won three straight starts since April 15-26, 2006, is 2-3 with a 4.70 ERA in five career starts against the Cubs.
He will match up against Jason Marquis (6-5, 3.67), who set a season high by allowing six earned runs in his last start July 6. The right-hander lasted only 4 2-3 innings in the Cubs’ 8-4 loss to Pittsburgh, falling to 1-4 with a 5.31 ERA in 11 starts since he opened the season 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA in his first seven outings.
Marquis is 7-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 20 games - 15 starts - against the Astros. He has been hit hard by Berkman, who is batting .586 (17-for-29) with a home run, a triple and four doubles against him. Third baseman Morgan Ensberg, who went 3-for-4 Saturday, is 16-for-35 (.457) with three homers lifetime against Marquis.
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, meanwhile, is 4-for-7 with two doubles and a home run against Rodriguez.