Chicago tries to avoid yet another series loss to Houston while sending Norris to a career-worst fourth consecutive defeat Wednesday.
Heading into the All-Star break, the Cubs (46-55) were 12th in the NL with a .254 average and 14th with 359 runs scored. In the first 11 games after the break, they batted .316 while scoring 69 times.
Putting rookies Tyler Colvin(notes) and Starlin Castro(notes) in the top two spots in the lineup accounted for some of that turnaround. They’ve combined to hit .354 with five homers and 12 RBIs since that move was made July 18.
The two teamed up for three hits Tuesday, including Colvin’s fourth home run in eight games, but Chicago managed only one other hit and struck out 12 times in a 6-1 loss. Houston (41-59) did all of its scoring in the seventh inning, highlighted by Lance Berkman’s(notes) fifth career grand slam.
Berkman has three hits in this series after a 2-for-29 slump. He missed the first 12 games of the season after knee surgery in March and has struggled to a .240 average - 56 points below his career mark.
“I think whenever you have a surgery right at the beginning of the season, miss all spring training and then try to come back two weeks in, you’re always going to be a little bit behind,” Berkman said. “You can still be productive, particularly late in the season when you start to get your legs under you a little bit.”
The Cubs try to bounce back in the series finale by taking advantage of Norris (2-7, 6.08 ERA), who is 0-4 with a 7.13 ERA in seven starts at home.
He’s been tagged for 16 runs - 13 earned - in his last 18 1-3 innings overall and is 0-3 in seven outings since winning at St. Louis on May 13. The right-hander gave up four runs over six innings Friday against Cincinnati but did not get a decision in a 6-4 loss.
“I got to come out tomorrow and get better,” Norris said. “There’s been a bunch of starts that have gone that way, but I’m learning and trying to get better every day.”
Norris will try to hand the Cubs their fourth series loss against Houston in as many tries this season. Chicago is 4-7 versus the Astros this year after losing only one series between the teams last season.
The only time Norris faced the Cubs came in relief in his major league debut last July 29, giving up a run and three hits over three innings.
Chicago counters with Randy Wells(notes) (5-7, 4.07), who is 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA in his last five starts. The right-hander threw seven scoreless innings for the second straight outing Friday in a 5-0 win over St. Louis.
“Once I fixed (a mechanical flaw), the results started coming and it’s easy to get your confidence back,” Wells said.
Wells gave up six runs over 5 1-3 innings during a 6-3 loss at Houston on June 6 after yielding one unearned run over three matchups last season.