Rockies-Cubs Preview

The Associated Press

More often than not, Carlos Villanueva has helped the Chicago Cubs carry a lead into the later innings only to see it vanish after he exits.

Lately it seems any pitcher can shut down the sputtering Colorado Rockies' lineup, though.

Chicago seeks a season-best fourth straight victory as Villanueva takes the mound Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs' starting rotation ranks fifth in the majors with a 3.40 ERA, but the bullpen's 4.13 mark and nine blown saves have been a disappointment.

Villanueva (1-2, 3.02 ERA) has left five of his seven starts with a lead, and he exited with two outs in the seventh inning holding a one-run advantage Thursday before the bullpen gave up a pair of runs in a 5-4 loss to St. Louis.

Chicago (16-22) was two outs away from its first shutout since Aug. 26 on Monday, but reliever Carlos Marmol allowed a homer to Josh Rutledge and the Cubs won 9-1.

"I have all the confidence in the world in (the bullpen)," Villanueva told the team's official website. "(But) you ask any (pitcher), and we never want to come out of a game, even though we should come out."

The Rockies seem to have trouble scoring no matter who the opposition sends to the mound. They've lost five of six while scoring four runs in the defeats. After seemingly ending the slump with Sunday's 8-2 win at St. Louis, Colorado (20-18) finished with three hits Monday.

Troy Tulowitzki went hitless and is 1 for 14 over his last four games.

"We need to be more consistent. We've struggled, there's no question, lately offensively," manager Walt Weiss said. "It looked like (Sunday) we busted out, but we need to be a little more consistent and put together some offense on a daily basis."

Tulowitzki, though, is 3 for 4 with two homers and a double off Villanueva, who has a 10.05 ERA in 11 appearances - no starts - against the Rockies.

The offense may need to step up with Jeff Francis (1-3, 6.90) on the mound as he looks to snap out of a personal funk.

Since beating San Diego in his first start April 5, Francis has allowed a .347 opponents' batting average with an 8.25 ERA in six outings. He was pitching relatively well in his last start but didn't return following a rain delay after giving up two runs in four innings of a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Thursday.

"I executed some good pitches, but it's four innings," Francis said. "It's not really a long time to get a judgment."

The left-hander hasn't been very good at Wrigley Field, posting an 8.44 ERA in four starts. He's 1-0 with a 7.67 ERA in six outings against the Cubs, who set a season high for runs Monday.

Six players had two hits including Alfonso Soriano, who hit a two-run homer and is batting .340 with three home runs and six doubles over his last 12 games.

Anthony Rizzo went 1 for 5 after signing a seven-year, $41 contract extension, not including incentives.

Chicago has won 15 of 19 home meetings with Colorado.

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