Consistency issues are hurting the Chicago Cubs when they can least afford it.
The Cubs look to rebound from a tough loss as they continue a three-game series against the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Chicago (73-71) fell one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central following a 5-4, 11-inning defeat to the Astros (63-81) while the Brewers beat Pittsburgh 6-1.
“We’re still in it,” first baseman Derrek Lee said. “You’ve got to turn the page, come back and try to get them tomorrow.”
The Cubs were coming off a 12-3 win over St. Louis on Monday, but they were unable to continue the momentum. Luke Scott hit a triple in the 11th to drive home the game-winning run after Chicago was unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded threat in the top of the inning. The Cubs left 15 runners on base a day after stranding 10 against the Cardinals.
“We had some opportunities and didn’t get it done,” Lee said. “That’s a tough one to swallow.”
Astros interim manager Cecil Cooper improved to 5-8 since he replaced Phil Garner on Aug. 27. The Astros snapped a five-game losing streak and moved one-half game behind the Pirates for fifth in the NL Central.
“Any time you can win a game in extra innings, it’s good, no matter where you are,” Scott said. “We want to finish strong. We haven’t lived up to expectations and we know it.”
Chicago has lost four straight at Minute Maid Park for the first time since the ballpark opened in 2000. The Cubs have lost four of their last six and six of nine since Sept. 3. Chicago plays 11 of its final 17 games on the road, where it is 34-35 following Tuesday’s loss.
“These are big games for us,” reliever Bob Howry said. “You’d love to be out and have a five- or seven-game lead and have a little leeway. We don’t, but we’ve got guys who know what it takes to win. Now, we’ve just got to come out and do it.”
Rich Hill (8-8, 4.02 ERA) takes the mound for the Cubs. He struggled on Friday against the Pirates, allowing six runs and nine hits in six innings of a 6-1 loss.
“I got away from the game plan a little bit and tried to invent things out there when things were going south, trying to make some pitches I really wasn’t used to making,” Hill said.
The Cubs had won the left-hander’s previous four starts. Hill is 1-0 with a 3.77 ERA in two starts and two relief appearances against the Astros. Chicago has split the two starts this season, with Hill failing to earn a decision in either while posting a 4.50 ERA.
Matt Albers (4-7, 5.88) counters for Houston. Albers gave up seven runs and six hits in three innings last Wednesday against the Brewers in a 14-2 loss.
“I made a few good pitches tonight, just not enough,” Albers told the Astros’ official Web site.
Albers has no decisions in three relief appearances against the Cubs, spanning 3 1-3 innings. He’s allowed three runs and five hits over that stretch.