The Chicago Cubs haven’t lost three straight games in almost two months.
With Derrek Lee back in the lineup and Carlos Zambrano on the mound, the Cubs look to avoid extending their skid Tuesday in the opener of a three-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Chicago (51-46) fell 3-0 to Arizona on Sunday to drop the final two games of the series, but finished 7-3 on its homestand. The Cubs haven’t lost three straight since losing a season-high six in a row from May 27-June 2, going 29-15 since to close in on NL Central-leading Milwaukee.
Tuesday marks the Cubs’ first trip to Busch since their April 29 game with the Cardinals was postponed due to the death of St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock earlier that day. At the time, Chicago was looking for its first sweep in St. Louis since 1988.
The Cubs went 3-2 while Lee served a five-game suspension for his role in a skirmish with San Diego on June 16. The All-Star first baseman, hitting .337 this season, was batting .400 (10-for-25) with two homers and seven RBIs in his previous seven games before serving the suspension.
“I felt great from the start (of the second half),” Lee told the Cubs’ official Web site. “Hopefully, I can pick up where I left off.”
Lee should help the Cubs, who were held to two runs and eight hits in their last two contests.
“Getting Lee (back) is big for us,” manager Lou Piniella said. “You lose your three hitter in the lineup and then you have a couple of other guys that have gotten a little cold, getting Derrek in there will help a lot.”
Having Zambrano (12-7, 3.69 ERA) on the mound also helps as the right-hander looks to become the NL’s first 13-game winner.
Zambrano didn’t allow a run in his second straight start, giving up two hits before being pulled after five innings because of heat exhaustion in the Cubs’ 12-1 win over San Francisco on Wednesday. He hasn’t allowed a run in 15 2/3 innings dating to a 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh on July 8.
“I’ve got to do what I have to do for my next outing in St. Louis,” said Zambrano, who allowed one run in seven innings of an 8-1 win at Busch on April 28.
Zambrano is 6-4 with a 2.43 ERA in 17 games - 16 starts - against St. Louis, but is 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his last eight starts against the Cardinals dating to 2005.
St. Louis (45-50) scored five times in the 10th inning to win 7-2 at Atlanta on Sunday night. The Cardinals split the four-game series with the Braves and finished 5-5 on their road trip.
Albert Pujols homered to tie the game, while Skip Schumaker hit a two-run homer and Scott Rolen had a three-run shot in the 10th for the Cardinals, who are third in the NL Central, five games behind the second-place Cubs.
“It was a huge win for us,” said Pujols, who is 5-for-9 with two homers in his last three games.
Schumaker is batting .515 (17-for-33) in July and has his average up to .315.
Kip Wells (4-12, 5.75) will take the mound for St. Louis on Tuesday in the opener of a seven-game homestand against the NL Central’s top two teams.
Wells, looking to avoid becoming the majors’ first 13-game loser, will try to post consecutive wins for the first time in 2007. He allowed two hits in eight innings of a 6-0 victory at Florida on Wednesday.
“This game is going to bring his confidence back,” Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said.
The right-hander is 3-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 14 starts against the Cubs.
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