Following a successful road trip, the Chicago Cubs are on the cusp of the NL Central lead. In order to reach the top spot Monday, though, they’ll need to overcome possibly the hottest team in baseball.
The Cubs seek to move into first place in the Central when they open a four-game series at Wrigley Field against the surging Philadelphia Phillies.
Chicago (55-48) was as many as nine games below .500 earlier this season, and trailed Milwaukee by 7 1/2 games in the division with a 39-40 record at the start of July. With a 16-8 mark this month, though, the Cubs have pulled within one-half game of the Brewers - the closest they’ve been since opening day.
With a victory Monday, the Cubs would move percentage points ahead of the idle Brewers.
“It was a good road trip. We won both series and you can’t be disappointed in that,” Lee told the Cubs’ official Web site. “We’re in great position. We’re sitting right there. We have a lot of baseball to go. We have to continue to play well.”
No team in the majors is playing better than the Phillies (55-49) right now. Philadelphia has won eight of its last nine games to move within 3 1/2 games of the NL East-leading New York Mets, and completed their first three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2001, with a 5-1 victory Sunday.
Jimmy Rollins had his second consecutive three-hit game and scored twice in the series finale. The shortstop, who is batting third in the Philadelphia lineup while All-Star second baseman Chase Utley is out with a broken hand, is batting .381 (16-for-42) with four triples and two homers during a nine-game hitting streak.
“It doesn’t matter where I hit in the lineup, it never has,” Rollins said. “We can’t let injuries kill our spirit. We have to keep fighting.”
Rollins is 0-for-4 lifetime against Cubs starter Ted Lilly (11-4, 3.46 ERA), who takes the mound seeking his eighth consecutive win.
The left-hander is 7-0 in eight starts since June 15, has won his last six outings, and has a sparkling 1.83 ERA in five starts this month. He gave up one run and six hits over seven innings of Wednesday’s 7-1 victory at St. Louis.
Lilly earned the Cubs’ only win in a three-game set at Philadelphia earlier this season, limiting the Phillies to one run and three hits in seven innings of a 4-1 victory on May 13.
Two days prior to that contest, Phillies starter Cole Hamels (11-5, 3.63) defeated the Cubs 7-2. The 23-year-old left-hander allowed two runs over seven innings.
However, Hamels is returning to the site of the worst start of his brief big league career. He surrendered a career-high nine runs - five earned - and nine hits, including two homers, in just two innings of an 11-2 defeat at Wrigley on Aug. 24 of last season.
Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano is 5-for-16 (.313) with three homers versus Hamels.
Hamels is 0-1 in his last two starts despite allowing only three runs over 14 innings. He held the Washington Nationals to two runs and six hits over seven innings Wednesday, before the Phillies prevailed 7-5 in 14 innings.