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Preview: Phillies Try To Get Back On Track Against Cubs At Wrigley

(Sports Network) - The Chicago Cubs know they have a long and difficult road ahead of them if they are to get back into contention in the National League Central. More games like Thursday's second-half opener should make that journey smoother.

Chicago will look for its second straight win to open its post-All Star break schedule this afternoon, when it continues its four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs kicked off a 10-game homestand with a 12-6 victory over the Phillies, but remain nine games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds in the division. They hit three homers in last night's rout, saw Starlin Castro steal home on a failed suicide squeeze that got by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz and received 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball from starter Ryan Dempster.

Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto hit two-run homers for Chicago, Alfonso Soriano had a solo shot and drove in three runs, while Aramis Ramirez stroked a pair of two-run doubles to match a season high with four RBI.

"You have to keep going and win games. Come here ready to play and see what happens," said Ramirez, who was hitting just .207 before the game but is batting .350 (21-for-60) with five homers and 14 RBI over his last 15 contests.

The Phillies' Ryan Howard hit a two-run homer in the first inning, but starter Jamie Moyer yielded six runs over just three innings of work as the Phillies failed to match their season-best five-game winning streak while also falling 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

"It is not a good way to set a tone to start the second half," said Moyer. "I'll wear it. It is my responsibility."

Howard added another two-run homer in the ninth, his 19th long ball of the season, and upped his NL-leading RBI total to 69. He has driven in 10 runs over his last seven games and is 3-for-11 with a homer and two RBI lifetime versus today's starter for the Cubs, Ted Lilly.

The continued subject of trade rumors, Lilly has struggled over his last two starts. The left-hander has allowed a total of 16 runs in that span, 14 of those earned, while logging just 10 1/3 innings of work.

Lilly lasted a season-low 3 2/3 innings against the Dodgers on Friday, yielding seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in his shortest outing since a two-inning start on Sept. 5, 2008.

"Ted wasn't sharp at all. He's gotten the ball up in his last couple of starts," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

The 34-year-old Lilly is 3-8 with a 4.08 earned run average on the season and 1-4 with a 6.43 ERA in five career starts versus the Phillies.

The Phillies hope Joe Blanton can produce a better second half after going just 3-5 with a 6.41 ERA in 13 starts before the break.

The right-hander hasn't factored into the decision of his last three starts, posting a 6.05 ERA in that span while allowing five earned runs in each of his last two outings. That includes last Friday versus the Reds, when Blanton also gave up 12 hits and struck out seven over his 5 1/3-inning outing.

Blanton, 29, faced the Cubs on May 20 and got a no-decision after getting charged with three runs over seven innings of work. He has a 2.75 ERA without a decision in three career starts versus Chicago.

Ramirez is just 1-for-6 in his career versus Blanton, while Lee is 2-for-8 with a double and homer.

The Phillies had a five-game winning streak at Wrigley Field halted with last night's loss but have still won eight of the past 11 meetings between the two clubs.