Cubs-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

Just over a week ago, the Chicago Cubs looked like they were starting to get their season turned around.

Eight consecutive losses later, their season seems to be headed straight for disappointment.

The Houston Astros look to complete the sweep and send the hapless Cubs to their first nine-game losing streak in a decade Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.

Chicago (15-28) won six of nine in early May and could have pulled within four games of first place in the NL Central with a victory over St. Louis on May 15. The Cubs suffered a 7-6 loss that night - the first of eight defeats in a row.

After surrendering an average of 6.9 runs in the first seven games of the skid, Chicago finally got some solid pitching Tuesday in Houston. The offense, however, was nonexistent in a 2-1 loss.

A punchless offense is nothing new for Chicago, which has plated 11 total runs in its last five games.

Alfonso Soriano homered Tuesday, but also struck out with the tying run on third base to end the eighth inning. Despite failing to come through in that at-bat, Soriano has been one of the few bright spots in Chicago's lineup during the losing streak, batting .321 with four homers, two doubles and six RBIs.

"The more important thing is to get wins,'' he said. "I don't know what we have to do to win one game and hit more, because right now we are struggling.''

Building on his success could be tough, however, considering he is batting .114 with a homer and 11 strikeouts in 35 career at-bats against scheduled starter Wandy Rodriguez (3-4, 2.24 ERA).

Rodriguez allowed three runs, a season-high 10 hits and two walks in six innings of a 4-1 loss to Texas on Friday. The left-hander is 0-2 with a 3.27 ERA and has been backed by three total runs in his last three starts after posting a 1.35 ERA while getting a combined 24 runs of support in winning his previous three.

The Astros (20-23), winners of five of seven, are seeking their first home sweep over the Cubs since August 2007. They swept a three-game series at Wrigley Field last season.

In Tuesday's victory, Jose Altuve had a leadoff homer and J.D. Martinez hit the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning.

The Astros are hoping this can spark Martinez, who's hitting .120 with three RBIs in May after batting .282 with a team-leading 19 RBIs in April.

"There's no doubt that he's probably been pressing a little bit and trying to do a few things and it was a big hit,'' Houston manager Brad Mills said. "To come through at that time of the game and get that hit is definitely something (good).''

Mills' club will likely be tested facing scheduled starter Jeff Samardzija (4-2, 3.00).

Against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, Samardzija was hurt by a two-run homer by Paul Konerko in the first inning and a tiebreaking solo shot by Gordon Beckham in the eighth in a 3-2 loss. The righty, who came in sporting a 1.03 ERA over his previous four starts, gave up six hits and struck out eight in 7 1-3 innings to lose for the first time since April 19.

This will be Samardzija's first start against the Astros after going 2-1 with a 4.76 ERA in 15 career relief appearances against them.

Rodriguez went 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA in three starts versus Chicago last year.