Since his last visit to St. Louis, Paul Maholm has turned into one of the Chicago Cubs' most reliable pitchers.
The left-hander will try to avoid a repeat of his most recent outing against the Cardinals on Tuesday afternoon as he looks to win a fifth consecutive start.
Maholm (4-2, 4.05 ERA) got off to a rocky start with the Cubs as he allowed six runs over four innings in each of his first two outings, including a 10-3 drubbing at Busch Stadium on April 15.
Since those miserable efforts, he's posted a 1.07 ERA while winning a career-best four straight starts and had arguably his best performance in the latest. Maholm lasted a season-high seven innings during Wednesday's 1-0 home victory over Atlanta while giving up three hits and three walks.
"After probably his second start, he's been as good as anybody," manager Dale Sveum said. "We knew what we were getting, we were getting a guy who throws strikes, can throw four pitches, can manipulate the ball, he's a good athlete. He's done a great job."
Aside from perhaps one start, the same could be said for Maholm's counterpart, Kyle Lohse (5-1, 2.08).
The right-hander gave up five runs over five innings during his lone defeat in Houston on May 4 but rebounded Wednesday by yielding one run over five frames in a 7-2 victory at Arizona. He pitched the final inning of that game after tweaking a hamstring while running the bases.
Lohse, who has allowed one run or fewer in five of his seven starts, will pitch against the Cubs (15-20) for the first time this season but will be facing them for the fifth straight time at Busch Stadium.
He gave up one run over seven innings in the latest of those matchups Sept. 24. Lohse got the victory in a 13-5 rout July 30 despite being saddled with five unearned runs in five frames.
This time, he'll face a club that's seeking a season-high third straight win after prevailing 6-4 in Monday's opener of a two-game set. Alfonso Soriano singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning after the Cubs blew a 4-0 lead and helped deal the Cardinals (20-15) a season-high fourth straight defeat.
"It's just where we are right now. We're just going to have to fight," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Bryan LaHair also hit his fourth homer against St. Louis this season - his ninth overall - and had three hits to snap a 1-for-14 slump. He's reached base in 31 consecutive games.
While trying to add to that streak, LaHair will hope to help Maholm avoid losing a fourth consecutive start against the Cardinals. The left-hander has an 8.40 ERA during those three matchups.
A bout of knee soreness to Carlos Beltran might help Maholm break that skid. Beltran, limited to a pinch-hit appearance in Monday's loss, is batting .390 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in his last 12 games and is 9 for 21 (.429) with two home runs against Maholm.
Allen Craig, batting .372 with five homers and 16 RBIs since coming off the disabled list May 1, is 4 for 9 with two doubles and a homer versus the left-hander.
Soriano has more hits off Lohse than any other pitcher he's faced over his career, going 17 for 44 (.386) with three homers.