The Chicago Cubs are in danger of playing themselves out of postseason contention. A weekend visit from the Pittsburgh Pirates might help them get back on track.
The reeling Cubs look to avoid a sixth straight loss as they open a three-game set against the last-place Pirates on Friday at Wrigley Field.
Chicago is 4-2 against Pittsburgh this year and 9-3 versus the Pirates at Wrigley since the start of the 2008 season.
The Cubs also roughed up Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter Charlie Morton (2-5, 3.81 ERA) when he took the loss in his only appearance against them Aug. 13, 2008, while with Atlanta. Morton allowed four runs and walked four in 2 1-3 innings of a 10-2 loss to Chicago.
The right-hander looks to avoid losing his fourth straight start despite allowing one run and seven hits in five innings of a 5-3 loss to St. Louis on Saturday.
Chicago counters with rookie Randy Wells (8-5, 3.01), who’s coming off the worst outing of his career.
The right-hander lost for the first time since July 12, giving up seven runs in 5 1-3 innings of an 11-5 loss at Colorado on Sunday.
Wells won his only outing versus the Pirates, allowing one run in seven innings of a 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh on July 1.
The Cubs have lost five in a row and seven of eight after Thursday's 6-1 defeat to the Phillies.
Although they still have a winning record of 58-55, the Cubs are just 19-33 against teams that currently own winning records.
"It doesn't help our situation out," manager Lou Piniella said.
If they're going to repeat as NL Central champs and do anything in the postseason, they know that has to change.
"I think that's an important thing to do," left-hander Ted Lilly, scheduled to come off the disabled list Monday, said of beating top competition. "I would like to do it. I think it sends a good message."
The Pirates, last in the NL Central, come to Wrigley Field on Friday, and Lilly cautioned against taking them for granted.
Next week's West Coast trip ends with four games in Los Angeles against the NL West-leading Dodgers. The Cubs have three games remaining with the Cardinals in St. Louis next month. Chicago now trails St. Louis by 4 1/2 games.
PHILLIES 6, CUBS 1: Ryan Dempster gave up a three-run homer to Ryan Howard in the fourth and a solo shot to Pedro Feliz later that inning. The Cubs offense managed only six hits, as Cliff Lee was hardly threatened.
--2B Jeff Baker extended his hitting streak to five games (11-for-19). He had two singles and two walks Thursday against the Phillies. Baker is beginning to wrest the lion's share of playing time at second away from Mike Fontenot, who has slumped lately.
--SS Ryan Theriot established a career high with his 46th RBI on Thursday. Theriot had 45 RBIs in 2007. He extended his hitting streak to seven games, during which he's gone 13-for-32 (.406).
--RHP Kevin Gregg, who has pitched 53 2/3 innings, allowed his 11th homer of the season Tuesday. He gave up a combined 10 homers in 2007 and 2008 with Florida, when he threw a total of 152 2/3 innings.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- RHP Randy Wells won five games in July, becoming only the third Cubs rookie pitcher in 80 years to win at least five in one month, joining Hank Wyse (five in July 1943) and Bob Chipman (five in July 1944).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Seems like we get one player off the (disabled list), we reciprocate and put one back on." -- Manager Lou Piniella, on RHP Carlos Zambrano going on the DL Saturday with lower-back spasms.
--RHP Jeff Samardzija was optioned to Class AAA Iowa and RHP Justin Berg was recalled from Iowa. Berg, who was up with the Cubs earlier this season but did not pitch, made his big-league debut Thursday against the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings. Samardzija made his first major league start Wednesday night and gave up eight hits and seven runs in 3 1/3 innings. He had been working out of the bullpen with the Cubs. Earlier this year, he was a starter at Iowa. He'll now go back into Iowa's rotation.
--LHP Ted Lilly pitched five scoreless innings Wednesday in a rehab start for Class A Peoria. Lilly is on the mend from left shoulder inflammation and arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is scheduled to return Monday at San Diego. "From a health standpoint, I feel really good," Lilly said upon returning to Wrigley Field.
--LHP Tom Gorzelanny threw from the bullpen mound and proclaimed himself fit to start Saturday against the Pirates. He suffered a bruised right foot Monday at Colorado. "There's still a little bit of soreness in there, but not enough to get worried about," Gorzelanny said.
3B Aramis Ramirez (sore left shoulder) left the Aug. 8 game, and he didn't play Aug. 9-13. He is day-to-day.
LHP Tom Gorzelanny (sore right foot) left the Aug. 10 game. X-rays were negative, and he should be able to pitch Aug. 15.
LHP Ted Lilly (left knee surgery, left shoulder inflammation) went on 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 21. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery July 27. He made a rehab start for Class A Peoria on Aug. 12, and he is expected to be activated Aug. 17.
RHP Carlos Zambrano (back muscle spasms) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 2.
INF Andres Blanco (left calf strain) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 4.
CF Reed Johnson (fractured left foot) went on the 15-day disabled list July 30. He hopes to return in two to three weeks.
RHP David Patton (right groin strain) went on the 15-day disabled list July 6. He began a rehab assignment with Class AA Tennessee on July 22.
RHP Chad Fox (right elbow inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list May 10. He might miss the remainder of the season.