After posting the second-best record in the NL in June, the Chicago Cubs cruised through July with the league’s best mark.
Now pushing for the top spot in the NL Central, the Cubs look to continue building momentum Wednesday when they open August against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Chicago (56-49) defeated Philadelphia 7-3 on Tuesday to remain one game back of NL Central-leading Milwaukee. The Cubs finished July 17-9 after going 17-11 in June, and are a major league-best 34-18 since June 3.
“These first four months are jockeying for position,” manager Lou Piniella told the team’s official Web site Friday. “Now, the real race begins.”
With Tuesday’s win, the Cubs also moved a half-game in front of Philadelphia in the wild-card race. Chicago is tied for second with San Diego, a half-game back of Los Angeles.
The Phillies (56-50) lost for just the second time in 11 contests, and stayed three games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets.
Pat Burrell went 2-for-4 and hit his 14th homer of the season Tuesday. He’s batting .460 (29-for-63) with five home runs and 21 RBIs in his last 21 games, raising his batting average 58 points to .260.
Burrell and newly acquired second baseman Tadahito Iguchi are each 3-for-5 with two homers lifetime against Wednesday’s starter Rich Hill (6-6, 3.59 ERA), who looks to give the Cubs another solid outing.
After starting the year 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA in his first six starts, Hill went 1-5 with a 5.20 ERA over his next 11. Since the All-Star break, though, he seems to have regained his composure, going 1-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts.
The left-hander allowed two runs, six hits and struck out eight in five innings of a 5-4 loss to Cincinnati on Friday. He did not factor in the decision.
“He’s one of the best young lefties I’ve caught,” said recently acquired Cubs catcher Jason Kendall, who had a two-run single Tuesday. “He’s just going to get better.”
In his only start against Philadelphia this season, Hill allowed five runs in five innings of a 7-2 road defeat May 11. He lost his other start against the Phillies, giving up five runs - two earned - in six innings of a 6-5 home loss Aug. 21.
Philadelphia counters with Jamie Moyer (9-8, 4.75), who hopes to build on one of his best outings of the season when he returns to Wrigley Field.
The 44-year-old left-hander, who made his major league debut with the Cubs in 1986, gave up an unearned run in seven innings of a rain-shortened 8-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday in his 31st career complete game. He had gone 1-3 with a 8.75 ERA in his previous four starts.
“The results haven’t been there the way I’d like, consistently,” Moyer said.
He has allowed at least four runs in five of his last six road starts, going 2-4 with a 7.83 ERA in those games.
Moyer, who pitched three seasons with Chicago, is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three career starts against his former team. Two of them came last season, and Moyer won both while posting a 2.77 ERA.
Chicago left fielder Alfonso Soriano is 7-for-19 with two homers in his last four games, but he’s batting .195 (8-for-41) with four home runs in his career against Moyer.