Playing at home has provided the Chicago Cubs a significant advantage all season, but a difficult stretch at Wrigley Field has cost them their place alone atop the NL Central.
The Cubs look to avoid their first three-game home slide while hoping to retain at least a share of the division lead on Sunday as they try for a split of their four-game series with the Florida Marlins.
Chicago (60-44) boasts an NL-best 38-14 mark at home, and posted a 6-3 victory in Thursday’s opener against Florida (55-49). But the Cubs lost the next two games to the Marlins, including Saturday’s 3-2, 12-inning defeat to fall into a first-place tie with surging Milwaukee.
The Cubs have lost seven of their last 10 games and will open a four-game set in Milwaukee on Monday.
Recently-acquired starter Rich Harden struck out 10 for a third straight game Saturday, and Aramis Ramirez homered and had two RBIs, but that wasn’t enough for the Cubs, who were held to two runs or fewer for the fourth time in six games despite leading the NL with 540.
Chicago hasn’t dropped three straight games at Wrigley since Aug. 5-15.
Several Cubs are struggling since the All-Star break. Derrek Lee is 7-for-39 (.179) since the break, while All-Stars Ramirez (5-for-38) and Geovany Soto (4-for-32) are also hitting poorly in the same span.
“If we continue to swing the bats like this the rest of the year, we ain’t going to win that many,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
The surprising Marlins, meanwhile, have won five of their last eight overall, and remained tied with Philadelphia for second in the NL East. They have won 12 of their last 13 games against the Cubs.
“This team is hungry to keep winning,” first baseman Jorge Cantu said. “Everyone wants to take it to the next level and make the postseason.”
Jeremy Hermida homered twice and scored the decisive run in the 12th inning on Saturday—one day after his pinch-hit homer in the ninth completed Florida’s 3-2 comeback victory.
Hermida is 3-for-8 (.375) with a homer and six RBIs versus Jason Marquis, who pitches for Chicago on Sunday.
The Cubs have scored once for the right-hander in his last four outings. Marquis (6-6, 4.44 ERA) is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in that stretch, and the lone run came Tuesday, when he gave up three runs in six innings of a 9-2 loss at Arizona.
“I feel positive, and hopefully we can get out of this funk and get out of our own way and play good baseball,” Marquis told the Cubs’ official site.
Marquis is 4-5 with a 6.88 ERA in 17 games - 10 starts - against the Marlins, conceding eight earned runs and 10 hits over 10 innings in losing his last two outings to them.
Florida hands the ball to Rick VandenHurk (1-1, 6.10), who tossed five innings of no-hit ball, striking out a season-best seven and throwing a season-high 94 pitches in a 4-0 home win over Atlanta on Tuesday. The right-hander combined with three pitchers on a one-hitter.
VandenHurk, who was recalled Monday from Double-A Carolina, is 3-3 with a 7.24 ERA in nine career appearances as a visitor. He will make his first start against the Cubs.