Alfonso Soriano looks to continue his torrid hitting and help the Cubs get over .500 for the first time this season Tuesday night when they open a three-game series against the Pirates.
Scheduled starter Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83 ERA) has been one of the Pirates' most reliable arms, but he hasn't had much luck lately against the Cubs, or Soriano.
Maholm is 0-1 with a 10.35 ERA in his last four starts against Chicago, and the Cubs left fielder is 6 for 18 with three homers lifetime against him.
The left-hander is coming off a tough outing, giving up four runs and seven hits - including two home runs - with a season-worst five walks in seven innings of Wednesday's 6-5, 14-inning win in Milwaukee.
Chicago counters with Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78), who allowed three runs and four hits - including two homers - in eight innings of Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Washington. The right-hander had given up just one home run in 27 2-3 innings over his first four starts.
Dempster hopes things go smoother against a Pittsburgh team he is 3-0 with a 3.73 ERA in five starts against since 2008.
The Cubs went 10-4 against the Pirates last season, and have won eight of nine at PNC Park.
Kosuke Fukudome is off to another fast start. The trick now is maintaining it.
Fukudome, a Japanese native in his third season with the Cubs, is batting .342 with a .438 on-base percentage and five home runs. He entered this season as a lifetime .331 hitter in the first month of the season, with that average falling to .287 in May and .218 in June.
Manager Lou Piniella has said more than once that he feels this will be the year Fukudome breaks out and puts it together for an entire season. One thing to watch is whether Fukudome begins "spinning" at the plate as he tries to pull everything to right field.
So far, he looks as if he has good balance at the plate.
"He's staying through the ball well," Piniella said. "He stays on the ball much better."
One thing that may be helping is that Fukudome has had his hitting coach from Japan, Kyosuke Sasaki, with him lately. Sasaki came over last year when Fukudome was slumping, and he also was at spring training with the Cubs.
Fukudome speaks a limited amount of English, so the ability to communicate with Sasaki is important. On top of that, Fukudome said he feels more comfortable in the United States and in dealing with his teammates than he has in the past.
--C Geovany Soto is hot after a 2-for-15 start to the season. He's batting .322 with a .487 on-base percentage to go with three homers. The most impressive part of Soto's game is that he's drawn a team-high 19 walks. Soto has done most of his hitting out of the No. 8 spot.
--2B Mike Fontenot has been overshadowed by some of the other Cubs who have hit well of late, but Fontenot currently is riding a 10-game hitting streak. His career best is 12, set in 2007. Fontenot gives the Cubs a left-handed presence in the lineup along with RF Kosuke Fukudome.
--3B Aramis Ramirez figures to be back in the lineup Tuesday night as the Cubs open a series in Pittsburgh. Ramirez is batting just .155, and it looks as if he's been over-swinging. He had a seat on the bench Sunday, and with the Cubs having an off day Monday, Ramirez gets an extra day. "He's a veteran guy," said manager Lou Piniella. "You've got to battle your way out of it." Ramirez has 25 strikeouts in 97 at-bats, an unusually high percentage for him.
--OF Xavier Nady figures to start Tuesday against his former team. Nady has not started since April 24, and he's batting .194. Nady is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, and the Cubs have been bringing him along slowly.
--RHP Carlos Zambrano, moved from the No. 1 spot in the rotation to the bullpen almost two weeks ago, could conceivably close games but only if RHP Carlos Marmol isn't available. Zambrano was warming up in a non-save situation in Sunday's 10-5 win over Arizona, but he did not get into the game. Marmol threw 35 pitches Saturday and 25 Sunday. If that situation arises again, Zambrano may be that day's closer. "That's a luxury that the move we made gives us," manager Lou Piniella said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- 1B Derrek Lee had 11 hits in 17 at-bats with the bases loaded dating to early May of last year. Lee had a game-breaking bases-loaded single against the Diamondbacks on May 1, making him 2-for-3 in that situation this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year, he wasn't 100 percent. Now you're seeing the real Soriano. That's why he got the big deal. It's going to be interesting to see where his numbers are Oct. 2, because I think they're going to be big." -- CF Marlon Byrd marveling at the hot hitting by LF Alfonso Soriano
--RHP Carlos Silva (slightly strained right wrist) was hurt in his May 1 start. His next start will be pushed back one day.
--RHP Esmailin Caridad (right forearm strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 12. He began a throwing program in Arizona during the week of April 19-26 and will likely go to Class AAA Iowa for a rehab assignment. He could rejoin the team May 7.
--RHP Angel Guzman (right shoulder surgery in March 2010) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26. He is out for the season.