The Chicago Cubs began the season with a very successful road trip. They haven’t won two straight series since as they prepare to visit the same two cities that started their 2009 campaign
The Cubs try for their fifth win in six games Wednesday night as they start a two-game set against the Houston Astros.
Chicago (14-12), the two-time defending NL Central champion, opened the season by winning two of three against Houston (11-15) before doing the same in Milwaukee. After this brief series, the Cubs will travel to Miller Park for a weekend set.
Its season-opening swing remains one of the best stretches for Chicago, which had its four-game winning streak end with a 6-2 loss to San Francisco on Tuesday. The Cubs scored all their runs and managed just four hits in seven innings against reigning NL: Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.
With the Cubs playing a day game after a night game, manager Lou Piniella opted to rest two players who had started every game - left fielder Alfonso Soriano and shortstop Ryan Theriot - as well as right fielder Milton Bradley, catcher Geovany Soto and third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
Most of those players are expected to return to the lineup Wednesday.
“We’re in a stretch of 20 straight games without a day off,” Piniella said. “You’ve got to rest people.”
It would probably be bad news for Houston if Soriano and Ramirez are back. Soriano went 5-for-15 with two solo homers in the season-opening series at Minute Maid Park while Ramirez was 6-for-14 with five RBIs.
First baseman Derrek Lee was 2-for-13 in that series. He continues to flounder on the road with four hits in 37 at-bats (.108).
The Astros are hoping Mike Hampton (1-2, 4.88 ERA) can give their overworked bullpen a rest. Their starters have failed to pitch past the fifth inning in five straight games, posting a 5.31 ERA with relievers putting up a 5.63 ERA over the last 24 innings.
Hampton will face the Cubs for the first time since Oct. 1, 2004 when he was with the Braves. The left-hander is 5-0 with a 4.35 ERA in his last seven starts against them.
Hampton is 0-1 with a 6.48 ERA in his last three outings. He lost Friday at Atlanta by giving up six runs over 4 1-3 innings in a 7-2 loss.
“I made some mistakes in crucial situations, and they took advantage of it,” Hampton said.
The Astros return home after a 4-3 road trip that included Tuesday’s game at Washington that was suspended with the score tied 10-10 in the 11th inning. Houston’s bullpen was forced to log 5 1-3 innings.
“The last two games were just very ugly,” Astros reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. “Just very, very ugly.”
Tueday’s game will be resumed July 9 in Houston with the Nationals as the home team.
Chicago’s Rich Harden (2-1, 5.11) will return to the mound after a subpar outing. He gave up a season-high five runs over 3 2-3 innings Friday in an 8-6 home win over Florida.
Harden struck out two after recording 35 in his first four starts.
The right-hander has faced the Astros once in his career. Harden gave up five runs over 5 2-3 innings on Aug. 5, and did not get a decision in an 11-7 victory.