Los Angeles (71-65) at Chicago (70-65)

Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 33° F
  • Game info: 4:05 pm EDT Mon Sep 3, 2007
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The Chicago Cubs began September in first place in the NL Central. Finishing the month atop the division will be very difficult if ace Carlos Zambrano is unable to rebound from a dismal August.

Zambrano looks to end his career-worst four-start losing streak on Monday when the Cubs open a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

Even with Zambrano going 0-4 with a 7.06 ERA in five August starts, the Cubs began this month as a division leader for the first time since 1989. After losing Friday’s series opener to Houston, Chicago rebounded with two straight wins, including a come-from-behind 6-5 victory on Sunday.

Derrek Lee hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning as the Cubs (70-65) erased a four-run deficit to remain 1 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee and two games in front of St. Louis.

It was the third straight one-run win for Chicago, which is 9-5 in such contests since the All-Star break. The Cubs began this season 0-6 in one-run decisions.

“What a huge win,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “That’s our biggest of the year. Clutch, clutch by Mr. Lee. We talked the other day about the big guys getting going in crunch time and boy, it’s September and they have gotten going.”

The one player the Cubs desperately need to get going is Zambrano, who went 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA in six July starts. He hasn’t won since beating Cincinnati on July 29, but was signed to a $91.5 million contract extension on Aug. 17.

The right-hander gave up six runs and nine hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-1 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“Thank God this month is gone,” Zambrano told the Cubs’ official Web site after the loss. “I’m looking forward to a new month and new teams coming to town. The last month is the most important.”

Zambrano has dominated the Dodgers throughout his career, going 2-1 with a 1.23 ERA in five starts against them, including an excellent outing at Dodger Stadium in a 4-2 victory on May 26 during which he struck out eight in 7 2-3 innings.

The Dodgers (71-65) avoided a three-game sweep at San Diego with a 5-0 victory Sunday behind a brilliant start from Chad Billingsley.

Billingsley matched a career high with nine strikeouts in seven innings, and Rafael Furcal had three hits and three stolen bases.

Los Angeles, which has won five of its last seven, is four games behind San Diego and Arizona in both the NL West and the wild card race.

“We’re down but we’re not out,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “There’s always a chance. But we just can’t miss many steps between here and the end. But every game we’re playing right now is not do or die.”

Esteban Loaiza will make his Dodgers debut after he was claimed off waivers from Oakland on Wednesday. The 13-year veteran did not pitch this season until Aug. 22 due to a bulging disk in his neck, but the Dodgers decided to take on his nearly $8 million contract for the stretch run and next year as well.

Loaiza was 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA in two starts - both coming against Toronto - with the Athletics, allowing only three runs and 10 hits in 14 2-3 innings.

He is 2-2 with a 3.94 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs, last facing them May 13, 2005 with Washington.

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Starting Pitchers

E. Loaiza CWS vs. C. Zambrano Mia
2-4 Record 18-13
5.79 ERA 3.95
20 K 177
20 BB 101
1.50 WHIP 1.33

Scoreboard

Monday, Sep 3