Before winning the opener of this series 5-3 on Monday, Cincinnati (13-20) had dropped a season high-tying five consecutive games to fall into a tie for the worst record in the NL.
Meanwhile, Chicago (18-14) has dropped eight of 11 since opening the year 15-6 to match its best 21-game start since 1907.
The Cubs have a good shot at getting back on track with Zambrano (4-1, 2.11 ERA) on the mound. The right-hander has allowed only four runs in 27 1-3 innings spanning his last four starts, and has three wins in that stretch. He held Milwaukee to one run in 6 1-3 innings on Thursday, but closer Kerry Wood blew a two-run ninth-inning lead and the Cubs fell 4-3.
“Things happen,” Zambrano told the Cubs’ official Web site. “We’re not perfect.”
Harang (1-4, 2.98) is all too aware of that fact. The right-hander has been nearly as effective as Zambrano, but he’s gotten only 15 runs of support in his team-high 48 1-3 innings. Harang gave up three runs in six innings in a 5-2 loss at St. Louis on Wednesday.
“I work my way out of jams and really bear down,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the score low and give us a chance to win. I’m out there doing what I can do.”
Harang won eight of his first 10 career decisions against the Cubs, but he’s dropped his last two starts against them while posting a 5.79 ERA. In his first outing against Chicago this season, he was reached for five runs and eight hits in six innings of a 9-5 loss at Wrigley Field on April 15.
Chicago first baseman Derrek Lee homered off Harang in that game, and is batting .342 (13-for-38) with five homers lifetime against him. Lee was 7-for-14 with two homers as the Cubs won two of three games versus the Reds in last month’s series.
Zambrano got one of the wins against the Reds, allowing two runs in seven innings of a 12-3 victory on April 16 to improve to 11-9 with a 3.35 ERA in 28 career games - 24 starts - against them. He’s 7-2 with a 2.86 ERA lifetime in Cincinnati.
Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who’s three home runs shy of becoming the sixth player in major league history to reach 600, is 12-for-33 (.364) with two homers in his career against Zambrano.
Griffey was robbed of a homer on Monday, when Chicago center fielder Felix Pie made a leaping catch over the wall in the fifth inning. The Reds, though, snapped their five-game skid by taking advantage of a pair of Cubs errors that set up five unearned runs. Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning by getting Lee to ground to first base for the game’s final out.
“You’re trying to be cool, and inside you’re churning,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker, who managed the Cubs from 2003-06. “Boy, that was a big win. That would have been a devastating loss right there.”
It turned into a pretty tough one for current Cubs manager Lou Piniella.
“You play like that and you’re going to lose quite a few of them, or most of them,” he said. “Anyway, it’s over with. Done.”