The Arizona Diamondbacks eliminated the Cubs from last postseason, marking the 99th straight year Chicago failed to win a World Series title.
The Cubs are hoping Rich Harden, among others, can help them end that championship drought.
The recently-acquired Harden takes the mound for the second time with his new club in Monday’s three-game series opener at Arizona.
After being swept by Arizona in a 2007 division series, Chicago (58-40) is trying to make another postseason run, as it’s two games ahead of second-place St. Louis and three up on third-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
The Cubs started slowly out of the All-Star break, scoring only two runs in dropping their first two games at Houston, but they broke out of their funk Sunday, beating the Astros 9-0 to avoid a sweep. Mike Fontenot hit a solo homer and a two-run double, while Derrek Lee drove in three runs.
“The boys swung the bats and put up a bunch of runs. It was just a good win for us,” Sunday’s winning pitcher Ryan Dempster told the Cubs’ official Web site. “Coming out of the break, we didn’t play like we wanted to for a couple of days.”
While Chicago got its offense going Sunday, it still needs to improve its play on the road to make a serious run for its first World Series title since 1908. The Cubs have lost 11 of their last 16 away from Wrigley Field, and are seeking their first consecutive road wins since June 14-15 at Toronto.
Chicago acquired Harden (0-0, 0.00 ERA) from Oakland as part of a six-player deal on July 8, and in his first start with the Cubs on July 12, he appeared to be on his way to an easy win. The right-hander gave up five hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings and left with his team leading 7-0, but Chicago’s normally reliable bullpen gave up seven runs, and the Cubs needed 11 innings to win 8-7.
The Diamondbacks (48-50) dropped two of three games to Los Angeles over the weekend to fall into a first-place tie with the Dodgers.
Arizona was poised to take a two-game division lead Sunday, but the Dodgers scored five runs in the top of the ninth to win 6-5. The Diamondbacks, who were swept in a three-game series at Wrigley May 9-11, are trying to avoid falling three games below .500 for the first time since finishing the 2006 season 76-86.
“(The Cubs are) a quality team and we’re a quality team,” first baseman Tony Clark, acquired by Arizona from San Diego on Thursday, told the Diamondbacks’ official Web site. “I expect it to be a dogfight.”
Randy Johnson (6-7, 5.23) takes the mound for the Diamondbacks looking to remain perfect against Chicago.
The 44-year-old left-hander is 12-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 13 career starts versus the Cubs. Johnson, though, has not faced Chicago since April 26, 2004, when he gave up two hits with 10 strikeouts in seven innings of a 9-0 win at Chase Field.
Johnson has allowed five runs in 12 1-3 innings to win his last two starts. In his last outing on July 12, he yielded four runs and five hits in six innings of a 10-4 win over Philadelphia.