Avoiding losing streaks is imperative for a team planning on making a run at a playoff spot. That lesson has not been lost on the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs continue their pursuit of first place in the NL Central Wednesday night when they face the St. Louis Cardinals in the middle contest of a three-game series at Busch Stadium.
Chicago avoided a third straight loss with a 4-3 victory in Tuesday’s series opener. Carlos Zambrano earned his NL-leading 13th win and Aramis Ramirez’s third single of the game snapped a seventh-inning tie.
St. Louis third baseman Scott Rolen’s two-out fielding error on Ryan Theriot’s routine grounder opened the door in the pivotal inning for Chicago (52-46), which improved to 30-15 since June 3 - the best record in the NL over that span.
Since losing a season-high six straight games from May 27-June 2, the Cubs have not dropped more than two in a row. That consistency has helped them move within three games of NL Central-leading Milwaukee and 1 1/2 games behind San Diego for the wild card.
All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee had two hits and an RBI in his return to Chicago’s lineup after serving a five-game suspension for his role in a June 16 brawl with the Padres.
“Those five days felt like forever,” Lee said on the Cubs’ official Web site.
Lee is 8-for-14 with two homers and five RBIs in his last four games.
Ted Lilly (10-4, 3.58 ERA) looks to match a career best by winning his sixth straight start for the Cubs. The left-hander has been outstanding lately, going 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last five outings. He has also won six consecutive decisions since his last loss on June 5.
Lilly, who won six straight starts from Aug. 25-Sept. 21, 2003 with Oakland, extended his current streak with a 9-8 victory over San Francisco on Thursday. He gave up three runs and six hits, including a home run to Barry Bonds, in five innings.
Lilly was a tough-luck loser against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on April 20, when he allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings of the Cubs’ 2-1 defeat. He is 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA in two career starts versus St. Louis.
The Cardinals (45-51) started an important seven-game homestand Tuesday, with three games against the Cubs followed by four with the first-place Brewers.
“We’re in a spot where we can’t afford to give any games away,” Rolen said. “When you’re playing the second-place and first-place teams in your division, we need to win these games and we don’t need to be kicking balls around the field.”
The loss dropped St. Louis to 21-23 at home this season after it was 49-31 last year.
The closer on last year’s championship team, Adam Wainwright (9-7, 4.18) has been the Cardinals’ best starter this season. The right-hander, who leads St. Louis in wins and innings pitched, is 3-0 with a 1.28 ERA in his last three starts.
Wainwright was outstanding again Friday in a 4-2 victory at Atlanta. He yielded one run and six hits while walking one and matching a career high with seven strikeouts.
He has struggled in two starts this season against the Cubs, though, going 0-1 with a 12.10 ERA.