Harden looks to extend a 12-inning shutout streak Sunday in the decisive game of the Cubs’ three-game set with the Washington Nationals.
Chicago (79-50) owns the NL’s best record and is 20-8 since dropping two of three to Arizona from July 21-23. After losing the opener of this series 13-5 on Friday, the Cubs bounced back the next day with a 9-2 victory over the Nationals (46-84).
Though Chicago is in danger of losing the series, it has good reason to feel confident with Harden (3-1, 1.50 ERA) taking the mound for his eighth start since being acquired from Oakland.
The right-hander has won two straight outings, tossing 12 shutout innings over that span. He gave up two hits while striking out 10 in seven innings as Chicago beat Cincinnati 5-0 on Tuesday night.
This will be Harden’s first appearance against Washington, and he’s hoping for another strong game at the plate from his teammates.
Aramis Ramirez hit a pair of three-run home runs and Mark DeRosa homered in his third straight game to lead Chicago on Saturday. Ramirez has 22 homers this season and 21 career multihomer games. The veteran third baseman is batting .432 (16-for-37) with three home runs, six doubles and 15 RBIs in his last 11 games.
Chicago, though, could be without slugging first baseman Derrek Lee, who left in the seventh inning with back spasms and is day-to-day.
Right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, meanwhile, isn’t showing signs of breaking out of his slump. He went 0-for-3 and struck out with the bases loaded to end the third Saturday. He also made two errors on one play.
Fukudome hit .296 through June, but is batting .199 since July 1.
“I’m going to have a talk with him (Sunday) and see how we can help the young man. He is struggling,” Chicago manager Lou Piniella said.
The Cubs lineup will face Jason Bergmann (2-9, 4.50), who’s 0-1 with an 8.68 ERA in his last two starts. The right-hander gave up four runs in 6 1-3 innings as Washington lost 5-4 to Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Bergmann is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs.
Washington has given Bergmann no runs to work with in two of his last five starts, and it went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position Saturday. The Nationals have been held to two runs or less in seven of their last 15 games, and three times in five contests versus the Cubs this season.
Washington leadoff hitter Emilio Bonifacio went hitless in four at-bats after going 4-for-9 in his previous two games. However, the second baseman, batting .228 on the season, has manager Manny Acta believing he’s finally taking the right approach at the plate.
“He has been working real hard. He has been bunting more lately, and he’s hitting the ball on the ground,” Acta told the Nationals’ official Web site. “It’s a work in progress.”
Washington’s 485 runs are the fewest in baseball.