A day at home proved better than a day off in Houston for the Chicago Cubs, who try to sustain their offensive momentum on Tuesday night when they open a three-game series at Minute Maid Park against the Astros.
The Cubs (73-70) took advantage of a quick trip to Wrigley Field to make up a postponed game against St. Louis, routing the Cardinals 12-3 on Monday. Aramis Ramirez homered twice for Chicago, which matched a season high in runs after scoring just 15 in its previous four games combined.
“Where’s that been? That was a thing of beauty. We hit the ball for power. We hit the ball in the gaps. We hit the ball with men in scoring position,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “A game like this can really get you going.”
Ramirez is 7-for-17 in his last four games and batting .353 (12-for-34) with a homer and eight RBIs in nine games versus the Astros in 2007. The third baseman, though, is just a .242 lifetime hitter in 55 games at Minute Maid Park.
“We struggled the last couple of weeks to put runs on the board and we lost a couple of tough games,” Ramirez said. “It’s fun when everybody is getting their hits, for personal reasons and for the team.”
First baseman Derrek Lee also homered Monday and is hitting .410 (16-for-39) with three homers in 10 games this month.
The win - coupled with Milwaukee’s 9-0 loss at Pittsburgh - lifted the Cubs into a tie with the Brewers for the NL Central lead. Chicago also has a three-game cushion over the Cardinals, whom they play in a pivotal four-game series at St. Louis over the weekend.
Cubs starter Jason Marquis (11-8, 4.13) has pitched well in three of his last four starts, but has just one win to show for it. The left-hander watched his bullpen squander a two-run lead Thursday after limiting the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs and four hits in seven innings of a 7-4 defeat.
Marquis is 3-5 on the road, but has just one win in his last 10 starts away from Wrigley Field since a victory on May 2 at Pittsburgh. He’s 1-1 with a 6.32 ERA in three starts versus the Astros this year, giving up 12 runs and 17 hits in just 15 2-3 innings, but yielded just two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a victory on Sept. 1.
In 22 lifetime appearances—17 starts—against Houston, Marquis is 8-5 with a 5.11 ERA.
The last-place Astros (62-81) have lost five straight and are on the verge of their first losing season since 2000, which also was the last time they finished lower than second in the NL Central. Houston returns home after being swept in a three-game series by the New York Mets, capped with a 4-1 defeat Sunday.
Brandon Backe (0-1, 4.76) will make his second start since undergoing elbow surgery in August 2006. The right-hander threw 91 pitches in a loss at Milwaukee on Sept. 4, giving up four runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings while walking three.
“It’s just an average outing, I guess, to me,” Backe said. “It definitely didn’t go the way I dreamt it would go. Every time I go out there, I think I can go seven innings and give up two runs, but that’s obviously not going to happen every time. I’m not upset, but I’m not pleased as well.”
Backe is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts and five games against the Cubs, but has not faced them since 2005.