After emerging from a key stretch against division rivals with some breathing room atop the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs received an unexpected day off.
Hoping the extra rest doesn’t hurt its momentum, Chicago resumes play Wednesday in a day-night doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves.
The Cubs (71-47) and Braves (55-63) were scheduled to begin their three-game series Tuesday, but rain ended Atlanta’s batting practice, and the forecast for more wet weather led to the early decision to postpone the game.
Surging Chicago returns to the field Wednesday looking to further widen the gap in the division. The Cubs led the Central by one game before sweeping a four-game series at Milwaukee from July 28-31. Chicago then took two of three at home in each of its series against Pittsburgh, Houston and St. Louis.
“We won three series here at home,” manager Lou Piniella told the Cubs’ official Web site after Sunday’s 6-2 victory over the Cardinals. “That was the important thing. That’s really what we’re attempting to do, is win series and go from there.”
The Cubs own the best home record in the NL at 45-17, but they also have some momentum on the road, where they’ve won a season-high five straight. That run on the road is the longest since June 22-July 3 last season for Chicago, which hasn’t won six straight games away from Wrigley Field since May 17-June 2, 2005.
The Cubs will be trying to extend their streak against a Braves team they swept in three games at Wrigley from June 10-12. Chicago, which visits Florida for three games this weekend, outscored Atlanta 20-9 in that series.
The Braves have since fallen out of playoff contention but are coming off a 4-3 road trip - their first winning one of the season.
Atlanta was on the verge of sweeping a four-game set against NL West-leading Arizona before running into Brandon Webb and falling 6-1 in Sunday’s finale.
“To win three out of four against their pitching staff is pretty good,” manager Bobby Cox said. “They’ve got an outstanding staff and getting three is big.”
The Braves have gotten a boost from the return of Chipper Jones to the lineup. Jones, who leads the majors with a .370 average, is 4-for-10 with five runs in three games since a stint on the DL with a left hamstring strain.
On Wednesday, the Braves will hand the ball to rookie Charlie Morton (3-5, 5.70 ERA), who has never faced the Cubs.
Morton snapped a three-start losing streak Thursday, throwing seven shutout innings in a 6-4 win over Arizona. It was the second straight strong outing for the right-hander, who gave up two runs and four hits in seven innings Aug. 2 against Milwaukee. That came five days after he was pounded for eight runs in 3 2-3 innings against St. Louis.
“I know I’m capable of pitching well,” Morton said. “I also know I’m capable of pitching badly. And it can change in a heartbeat.”
Marquis pitched 6 1-3 innings last Wednesday against Houston, giving up four runs in an 11-4 win. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and was his first win since June 21.
Marquis is 0-3 with a 14.04 ERA in four starts against Atlanta.
Harden will make his sixth start since joining the Cubs in a July 8 trade with Oakland. The right-hander gave up five runs in 5 2-3 innings last Tuesday and didn’t get the decision in Chicago’s 11-7 home win over Houston.
Despite the poor outing, Harden has a 2.10 ERA and 1-1 record with the Cubs.
His only previous start against the Braves came May 17, when he gave up one run in seven innings of a 5-4 road win while with Oakland.
Jorge Campillo (7-4, 2.83) will start the second game for the Braves. He pitched 6 1-3 innings Friday against Arizona, allowing five runs and eight hits in an 11-6 victory. Campillo has won his last two starts and four consecutive decisions.
In his only outing against the Cubs, Campillo came on in relief June 12 and needed one pitch to retire Carlos Zambrano, the only batter he faced.