The Chicago Cubs had quite a first half of the season, and they hope the second half can be even more memorable.
The NL Central-leading Cubs look continue their strong play as they open a three-game series against the Houston Astros on Friday.
Chicago (57-38) went into the All-Star break with the best record in the NL thanks to 37-12 record at Wrigley Field. The club was rewarded with a franchise-record eight players invited to the All-Star game.
“We’ve overcome a lot here,” manager Lou Piniella said. “Soriano has really missed half of the first half. We had our No. 1 starter (Zambrano) on the DL and we’ve done quite well.
“Let’s hope we do just as well or better in the second half and we will just be fine.”
Despite their hot start, the Cubs have some company at the top of the division. They are four games ahead of second-place St. Louis and five games up on third-place Milwaukee, which acquired reigning Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia in a blockbuster trade on July 7. Chicago, which is trying to win a World Series for the first time since 1908, countered by trading for Rich Harden one day later.
“This division of ours is starting to get really interesting, with St. Louis and Milwaukee,” Piniella told the Cubs’ official Web site. “It’s going to be a nice fight the second half of the season.”
Houston (44-51) likely will not be part of the division race.
The Astros pulled within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Cubs on May 27, but have the majors’ second-worst record since then (14-28), and have dropped 13 games back of Chicago.
“We’ve shown over an extended period that we are capable of doing it and we just have to grind it out,” Astros general manager Ed Wade told the team’s official Web site.
Brian Moehler (5-4, 4.28 ERA) takes the ball for Houston, as he makes his first start since giving up four runs and seven hits in six innings of a 6-4 win over Pittsburgh on July 9.
Moehler has won three of his last four decisions at Minute Maid Park, and the right-hander has given up just two runs in 12 innings in his last two starts there.
In his only start of the season against Chicago on May 19, Moehler gave up three runs and seven hits in five innings of a 7-2 defeat. He is 1-1 with a 4.13 ERA in four career starts versus the Cubs.
Astros All-Stars Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada are both enjoying stellar seasons, but neither has had much luck against Cubs scheduled starter Ted Lilly (9-6, 4.68). Berkman is just 1-for-11 (.091) lifetime against Lilly, while Tejada is batting .148 (4-for-27).
Lilly hasn’t pitched since giving up four runs and six hits in a season-low 2 2-3 innings of a 12-7 loss to Cincinnati on July 10, his first loss since June 4.
The left-hander hopes to bounce back on the road, where he is 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his last four away from Wrigley.
Lilly opposed Moehler and the Astros on May 19, and gave up two runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings to earn the win. Since being acquired by the Cubs before last season, Lilly is 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in three career starts versus Houston.