The offense that was expected to be one of the most dangerous in the majors is finally starting to come around.
After leading the league in runs (855), on-base percentage (.354) and slugging percentage (.443) en route to a second straight NL Central title last season, Chicago (54-46) was widely expected to duplicate that performance in 2009.
That wasn’t the case through the first half of the season.
With a 43-43 record at the All-Star break, the Cubs were one of the biggest disappointments in the majors - 15th in the NL in runs (355), 13th in OBP (.322) and 10th in slugging (.399). The lineup has turned things around since the Midsummer Classic, leading the club to 11 wins in 14 games.
Chicago wrapped up a 6-1 homestand with Thursday’s 12-3 win over Houston, the second straight game it plated 12 runs against the Astros.
Since the break, the Cubs are first in the league in runs (91), second in OBP (.368) and second in slugging (.506). They have four double-figure scoring games in their last 11 after having four through their first 89.
Among Chicago’s hottest hitters are Aramis Ramirez(notes) - 15 for 29 (.517) with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last seven games - and Kosuke Fukudome(notes), who had four RBIs on Thursday and is batting .409 since the break.
Harden is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA in seven road starts, yielding three runs while striking out 22 over 20 innings in his last three.
He has been very sharp since the break, going 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts after getting tagged for 11 runs in seven innings to lose his first two starts this month. The right-hander was nearly perfect in six innings during Sunday’s 5-2 win over Cincinnati, not issuing a walk and allowing one hit - a solo homer - while striking out eight.
Harden was awful in his lone start against the Marlins this year, giving up five runs, six hits and four walks in 3 2-3 innings of an 8-6 home win May 1.
Florida (53-49) is trying to bounce back following its second defeat in 10 games, 6-3 in 10 innings to Atlanta on Friday.
The Marlins tied the game with two runs in the eighth but saw their three-game winning streak come to an end.
While Harden has excelled on the road, his opponent Friday has struggled at home.
At Dodger Stadium on Sunday, Volstad allowed four runs - all in the sixth - and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-6 win over Los Angeles, the third time in four starts the right-hander yielded at least four runs.
Volstad has a 2.84 ERA without a decision in three career starts versus the Cubs. At Wrigley Field on April 30, Volstad allowed two runs and three hits in seven innings of an 8-2, 10-inning win.