The Chicago Cubs may have started off too poorly for their recent surge to mean much in the NL Central. However, they could soon overtake the Pittsburgh Pirates if they continue to play well.
Starlin Castro will try to continue his hot stretch Saturday night as Chicago looks to clinch its fourth home series victory in its last five.
The Cubs (31-40) have won nine of 11 at home after starting 7-12 at Wrigley Field, and they're an NL-best 18-13 since May 17.
"This is the nicest I've felt about this team since I've been here," Anthony Rizzo said.
The Cubs' 96-136 record over Rizzo's first two seasons with them was baseball's second-worst behind Houston.
While Chicago still sits in last place in the division, the club is three games back of Pittsburgh for fourth.
Castro hit his 11th home run of the season - just three shy of his career-high total from 2012 - in a 6-3 win in Friday's series opener. He's batting .396 over his last 13 games with four homers and 14 RBIs and is also hitting .406 with 11 RBIs in his last eight matchups with the Pirates.
Chicago has won four of five while posting a 1.80 ERA in those victories. Travis Wood (7-5, 4.48 ERA) looks for his sixth victory in eight starts after his most impressive outing of the season.
The left-hander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning Sunday against Philadelphia, ultimately allowing three hits over eight innings in a 3-0 road victory.
"It's what we expect out of him every time," Rizzo, who has 17 RBIs over his last 22 games, told the team's official website. "He's going to go out, throw strikes, usually work at a pretty fast tempo, and it's nice to play behind him."
Wood gave up three runs and nine hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 7-3 win over the Pirates on June 10, improving to 3-2 with a 2.13 ERA over his last seven games - six starts - against them.
Pittsburgh (35-38) starters have struggled lately, surrendering 19 runs over 20 1-3 innings in the last four games. Charlie Morton was charged with all six runs Friday in six innings.
Vance Worley (0-0, 0.00) looks to follow up a strong Pirates debut after he was recalled from Triple-A to fill in for the injured Francisco Liriano at Miami on Sunday. He left with a 2-0 lead after throwing seven scoreless innings, but didn't receive a decision in the 3-2 loss.
Worley, who was 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts for Minnesota in 2013, has limited the Cubs to two runs over 15 innings in two matchups.
Rookie Gregory Polanco is hitting .367 with nine runs, becoming the first NL player to open his career with a 10-game hitting streak since Juan Pierre hit safely in his first 16 for Colorado in 2000.
Meanwhile, Starling Marte was 0 for 4 Friday after batting .413 during a 10-game hitting streak.
Pedro Alvarez is 1 for 18 against Wood with seven strikeouts, while Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 23.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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