The Chicago Cubs seem to have an aura of invincibility around them when they play at Wrigley Field this season, and that was evident again in comeback wins to kick off their latest four-game home set.
But after failing to mount rallies in the series’ final two games, the Cubs are on the brink of a first in 2008 - three straight home losses.
Chicago will try to avoid dropping its third in a row at Wrigley on Monday when it opens a three-game series with the Houston Astros.
The Cubs (85-52) entered the weekend with a 51-19 record on the North Side, the best home mark in baseball. But after rallying to beat Philadelphia in the late innings on Thursday and Friday, Chicago couldn’t repeat the feat when it fell behind the next two days.
Manager Lou Piniella’s team scored once after the second inning Saturday in a 5-2 loss, and after a pair of second-inning runs on Sunday, picked up just one the rest of the way in a 5-3 defeat.
Chicago left 19 runners on in the final two games, and had 22 hits - all singles.
“Listen, if we could get guys in every time we got men on base, we’d be 162-0 and that’s not going to happen,” Piniella said.
It was just the third time this season the Cubs had lost back-to-back home games. They haven’t lost three straight at Wrigley since August 2007.
The Cubs will try to get their bats going against Astros ace Roy Oswalt (12-9, 4.11 ERA). After an unusually poor start to the season - Oswalt was 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA on June 4 - the right-hander has gotten it together, going 8-3 with a 2.84 ERA in his last 13 starts.
He gave up one runs in seven innings on Wednesday against Cincinnati - the fifth straight time he’d gone at least that deep in the game - in a 4-1 win. Oswalt is 5-1 since coming off the disabled list in late July after it was discovered he had a strained left hip adductor.
“If there was something wrong with him before, there’s certainly nothing wrong with him now,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said after watching Oswalt improve to 22-1 in 24 starts versus Cincinnati.
Baker was the manager of the Cubs from 2003-2006, and saw Oswalt plenty. Oswalt was 5-7 with a 3.70 ERA against Chicago in those four years, but he’s struggled against them the past two seasons. The three-time All-Star has faced the Cubs twice at Wrigley since 2007, going 0-2 with a 9.75 ERA.
Oswalt’s start against the Reds was supported by a two-run homer from Ty Wigginton, and that’s been a common occurrence for the Astros third baseman, who’s helped replace the production missing with Carlos Lee on the disabled list.
Wigginton has gone 8-for-19 (.421) with five homers and eight RBIs in helping Houston (70-66) win five straight, and hit a two-run shot Sunday in the Astros’ 3-0 victory over St. Louis.
“Ty has been tremendous. He’s made people say Carlos who?” manager Cecil Cooper said. “We don’t have a Carlos Lee now but we have a Carlos Junior.”
It’ll be up to Jason Marquis (9-7, 4.52) to slow Wigginton and the Astros down. Wrigley hasn’t been particularly friendly confines for Marquis, who has a 5.76 ERA in his home park as opposed to a 3.12 ERA on the road.
His latest start came Wednesday in Pittsburgh, and he pitched seven innings in a 2-0 win.
Marquis is 1-0 with a 6.17 ERA in two starts against the Astros this season, both at Wrigley.