Coming into the season, the Chicago Cubs were counting on Carlos Zambrano starting the 2011 season the same way he ended the 2010 season.
While he hasn’t been as sharp as the Cubs likely would have hoped, Zambrano’s lengthy streak of winning decisions remains alive.
Seeking a career-best 10th consecutive victory, Zambrano takes the mound Wednesday night as the visiting Cubs and Houston Astros conclude their three-game set.
After going 8-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last 10 starts of 2010, Zambrano (1-0, 5.25 ERA) brought high hopes into this year.
While Zambrano has been shaky at times in his first two outings, surrendering seven earned runs over 12 innings, the Cubs are 2-0 when the three-time All-Star takes the mound.
Despite allowing four runs in six innings of Friday’s 7-4 victory at Milwaukee, the right-hander earned his ninth straight winning decision – matching the longest run of his career from June 5-July 30, 2006.
“I’m keeping the streak going,” Zambrano, who has recorded a 1.91 ERA en route to winning seven straight road starts, told the Cubs’ official website. “It’s about winning.”
The 29-year-old Zambrano has experienced plenty of that against the Astros (3-8) lately, going 3-1 with a 1.77 ERA in his last six starts in the series – including a no-hitter Sept. 14, 2008, at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. Zambrano is 13-8 with a 2.65 ERA in 29 career starts versus the Astros.
Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 6.55) seemed to settle down in his last start after giving up seven runs in four innings a 9-4 loss at Philadelphia on April 2.
Rodriguez allowed one run and eight hits over seven innings of Friday’s 4-3 loss to Florida.
“You see how Wandy threw, he threw amazing,” first baseman Brett Wallace said. “He went out there and gave us a great chance to win. Our defense played well behind him, for the most part. Next time, we can hopefully put up a few more runs.”
Scoring wasn’t an issue for Houston on Tuesday night, when it recorded its highest run total of the season in an 11-2 win over Chicago (5-6).
Houston collected at least 10 hits for a fifth consecutive game for the first time since May 1-5, 2009, and raised its home batting average to .339.
Michael Bourn, Angel Sanchez and Hunter Pence combined to go 9 for 15 with seven runs scored and seven RBIs hitting 1-2-3 in the Astros’ lineup.
“Bourn and Sanchez are doing an outstanding job,” Pence said. “It feels like every at-bat I’ve got runners everywhere. It feels good. When they’re doing that the offense is coming around and that’s a good ball game when they’re doing that.”
Rodriguez, who has gone 2-0 while allowing no more than one run in each of his last five home starts against the Cubs, hasn’t faced Chicago at Minute Maid Park since opposing Zambrano in a 2-1 Astros win June 10, 2009. Neither pitcher factored in the decision.
The left-hander went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts against Chicago at Wrigley Field last season.
Houston outfielder Carlos Lee is hitting .379 (22 for 58) with five home runs against Zambrano. He is the only Astros player to have homered off the Venezuela native.
Chicago outfielder Alfonso Soriano, 2 for 14 over his last four games, is 2 for 26 (.077) with eight strikeouts lifetime against Rodriguez.
After going 3 for 5 in Monday’s 5-4 win in the series opener, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to five games with two more hits Tuesday.
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