On the verge of matching their longest road losing streak of the season, the Cubs try to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.
The Cubs (35-53) have lost each of the first three games of this series by one run, falling 5-4 on Wednesday - their fifth straight defeat as the visiting team. They lost six straight road games May 22-June 7.
“We’ve been hanging around but just haven’t been able to get over the top,” manager Mike Quade said. “It seems like we’re always fighting an uphill battle here lately.”
Although Chicago continues to falter, Ramirez has been thriving lately. The third baseman, whose two-run homer Wednesday was his 14th of the season, is 17 for 47 (.362) with an MLB-high nine home runs and 15 RBIs since June 25.
Ramirez is responsible for half of his team’s homers and one-third of its RBIs over that span, during which the Cubs have lost nine of 13.
The Nationals (45-43), meanwhile, have won 15 of 18 at home.
“It seems like all we play around here is tight, interesting ballgames,” said new manager Davey Johnson.
Despite getting tagged with the loss his last time out, Garza is coming off perhaps his best outing of the year. He allowed four hits while striking out seven in his first complete game of the season, a 1-0 home loss to the White Sox on Saturday.
The right-hander has made big strides since going 1-4 with a 4.43 ERA over his first seven starts. Garza has allowed six runs in 21 1-3 innings over his last three outings, with opponents batting .176 in that stretch.
“It’s the best I’ve felt in a while,” Garza told the Cubs’ official website Saturday. “… When I was in Tampa, I was a heavily one-dimensional guy, fastball-heavy. Now I’m learning how to pitch, how to mix things in, how to change things up, how to throw stuff here and there. It’s progression.”
In his only appearance against Washington, Garza yielded three runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-3 Rays win June 12, 2009.
The Nationals counter with Livan Hernandez(notes) (5-8, 3.73). Since receiving six consecutive losing decisions over eight starts May 3-June 9, Hernandez has gone 2-0 with a 2.36 ERA in his last four - allowing two runs or fewer in three of those outings.
The right-hander went 5-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his previous seven starts against the Cubs before allowing seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-1 loss in the last meeting Aug. 23. He hasn’t had much success against Ramirez, who is 12 for 33 (.364) with four homers off the Cuba native.
Hernandez, though, is 4-2 with a 2.49 ERA in nine home starts this season.