Zambrano (14-8, 3.69 ERA) gets another chance to become the first 15-game winner in the NL after failing to do so Wednesday, when he was battered by Houston in an 8-2 loss. The Cubs ace allowed a season high-tying seven runs and eight hits, including a pair of home runs, in 5 2-3 innings.
“I tried to do too much,” Zambrano told the team’s official Web site. “I was feeling good today, but I was trying to do too much. I was fighting myself, and that shouldn’t happen.”
The outing was reminiscent of Zambrano’s struggles during the early season, when he went 1-2 with a 7.77 ERA in his first four starts - both of the defeats coming against Cincinnati (50-67). His most recent start against the Reds was at Wrigley Field on April 13, when he lasted only four innings and gave up six runs and six hits in a 6-5 defeat.
The right-hander made his season debut at Cincinnati on April 2 and allowed five runs, five walks and two home runs to Adam Dunn in a 5-1 loss.
Zambrano has turned his season around since the rough beginning, going 13-6 with a 3.04 ERA in 21 starts. He’s been particularly dominant at home of late, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.19 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 22 2-3 innings in his last four starts there.
While Zambrano felt he was trying too hard in his last outing, the entire Cubs lineup appears to be doing just that in the absence of injured slugger Alfonso Soriano. Chicago lost its leadoff hitter to a torn right quadriceps Aug. 5 in an 8-3 loss to the New York Mets, and is 2-5 since.
During those five losses, the Cubs managed 10 runs and batted .237.
Fortunately for the second-place Cubs (60-57), NL Central leader Milwaukee has won only twice in its last eight games and is just 1 1/2 games ahead of Chicago. The Brewers open a three-game series with St. Louis on Tuesday.
“I feel fortunate to be 1 1/2 games out of first place,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “We’ve had a rough 20 days. We’ve had some injuries and hopefully, we get a little healthy at home.”
On Tuesday, Piniella’s struggling lineup will try to solve Cincinnati’s Aaron Harang (11-3, 3.37), who’s coming off one of his best outings of 2007.
Harang was forced out of a July 28 start against the Cubs after one inning by lower back soreness, with Chicago going on to win 8-1. After missing his next turn in the rotation, the ace right-hander showed he was healthy Wednesday, scattering four hits and striking out eight in eight innings of a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Harang just pitched phenomenal,” Reds catcher David Ross told the team’s official Web site. “He doesn’t get any credit nationally, but that guy is one of the best pitchers in the league.”
Harang will try to build on that performance and remain unbeaten at Wrigley, where he’s 2-0 with a 4.71 ERA in six career starts. He’ll be opposing Zambrano for the third time this season, beating him in the April 2 opener but struggling April 13, when he was reached for five runs and nine hits in four innings. Harang is 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA in his three starts against the Cubs this season.
Cincinnati hopes its top pitcher can help it rebound from a 10-4 defeat to San Diego, the team’s third in four games following a season high-tying four-game winning streak.
Chicago’s Derrek Lee has not homered in nine games, but he’s had success against Harang, going 11-for-29 (.379) with three home runs.
The Cubs could be without outfielder Cliff Floyd during this series after he was placed on the bereavement list Sunday to be with his ailing father, who died later that night.