The NL West-leading Padres look to win their season-high fifth straight road game Thursday when the impressive Latos takes the mound against the slumping Chicago Cubs and Carlos Zambrano(notes) - making his first start at Wrigley Field in nearly two months.
San Diego (72-47), which had dropped five in a row at Wrigley prior to this series, has outscored the Cubs 15-6 in the first three games this week and is 25 games above .500 for the first time since its pennant-winning season of 1998. The Padres will now go for their first sweep of any length in Chicago since May 12-14, 2006.
“We’re having good pitching performances and we’re playing good defense,” manager Bud Black said following Wednesday’s 5-1 win. “The way we’re playing makes us confident going into every game.”
San Diego has won nine of 10, with its starting pitchers going 9-0 with a 1.58 ERA in that stretch. Latos (12-5, 2.32 ERA) continues to be the most impressive member of the rotation.
The 22-year-old right-hander is 7-1 with a 1.43 ERA while going a franchise-best 11 straight starts allowing two runs or fewer. He struck out a career high-tying nine and yielded one run in six innings of Saturday’s 3-2, 11-inning loss in San Francisco.
This will be Latos’ first career start at Wrigley. In a 7-1 home loss to Chicago on Aug. 19, 2009, he lasted 3 2-3 innings, walking four and giving up five runs and seven hits.
The Cubs (50-71), losers of 17 of 21 overall, give the ball to Zambrano (4-6, 5.27) as they try to avoid their seventh straight defeat at Wrigley, which would be the club’s longest such skid since an 0-9 stretch May 31-June 27, 2006.
Zambrano, who will make his first home start since June 20, gave up two runs and seven hits over 5 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 3-2 victory in St. Louis. It was the right-hander’s second start - and fifth appearance - following a suspension for a June 25 dugout outburst.
“I told him after the game, ‘Just keep improving,’” manager Lou Piniella said of Zambrano, who is 6-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 10 career starts versus San Diego.
While Zambrano makes his first appearance at home since a relief effort against Milwaukee on Aug. 4, first baseman Derrek Lee(notes) won’t be in a Cubs uniform when he returns to Wrigley. The former NL batting champ, who missed the first three games of this series with a bulging disc in his back, was traded to NL East-leading Atlanta following Wednesday’s game. He could be in the Braves’ lineup Friday when they open a three-game series in Chicago.
“It will be good for (Lee) and from that regard (being in a playoff race), I’m happy for him,” said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. “But the overall situation we’re in kind of makes us all stumble between miserable and sad every day.”
Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes), who set a club record Wednesday with his 11th homer versus the Cubs, is batting .429 with five home runs and eight RBIs in his last six games at Wrigley. He is 3 for 9 lifetime against Zambrano.
San Diego, which is a NL-best 36-25 on the road, has won eight of nine against Chicago overall.