(Sports Network) – Philadelphia Phillies co-ace Cliff Lee seems to be back to his old winning ways. Pitching against the Chicago Cubs has always put a smile on his face too, as the Phillies resume a four-game set with the NL Central inhabitants this afternoon from Citizens Bank Park.
Lee recently went through a stretch in which he compiled an 0-3 mark with a 3.66 earned run average in six starts, with the Phillies registering just two wins over that span. Lee has turned it on since then, going 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA in his last four starts, and threw seven shutout innings in his last start on Monday in a 3-1 victory versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The left-hander and 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland struck out 10 Dodgers and has fanned 10 or more batters six times this season. Lee is 5-5 with a 3.62 ERA in 13 starts and 4-1 in seven trips to the south Philly mound. He hopes to make it five wins at home when he takes on a Cubs team he is 3-0 against in four career starts to go along with a 1.71 ERA.
Philadelphia’s top ace and innings eater, Roy Halladay, was able to become the majors’ first nine-game winner in last night’s 7-5 victory over the Cubs in the second test of this set. The right-hander struck out nine and allowed six hits in seven shutout innings to push his 2011 mark to 9-3.
“I felt good and felt like I was making my pitches the whole time I was out there,” said Halladay, who notched his first win against the Cubs (1-3). “I was able to avoid trouble for the most part and the guys took care of the rest.”
The Cubs, however, put up a five-spot in the top of the eighth to make it interesting, as Phillies reliever Jose Contreras was reached for four runs in only one-third of an inning and J.C. Romero gave up the other run. Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo went the rest of the way to preserve the win, with Bastardo posting his second save.
Domonic Brown hit a two-run homer and Placido Polanco clubbed a grand slam for the Phillies, who have won four of six games since a four-game slide and are 3-2 on a season-long 11-game homestand. The Phillies lead the NL East by two games over surging Atlanta and own a 22-12 record in south Philly this season.
Philadelphia will also host Florida for four games on the homestand.
Meanwhile, the struggling Cubs have lost 11 of their last 14 games and are just two games ahead of last-place Houston in the NL Central. They almost fought back from a 7-0 deficit with a five-run eighth inning, but ran out of gas to fall to 2-6 on a three-city, 10-game road trip.
Aramis Ramirez and Lou Montanez both had two RBI, while Kosuke Fukudome and Starlin Castro finished with two hits apiece for the Cubs, who managed a 10-8 advantage in hits. Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano was shelled for seven runs and seven hits over 6 1/3 innings to absorb the loss (5-3).
“Obviously it was a big start and he took it as a challenge,” said Chicago manager Mike Quade about Zambrano facing Halladay. “He settled down after getting the ball up early. Once he got back into his game and kept the ball down he was much better.”
Zambrano struck out Rollins in the fourth for the 1,500th strikeout of his career, and is 4-4 in 10 games against the Phillies. Carlos Pena went 0-for-4 with a run scored, two K’s and a walk, but has reached base safely in 31 of his last 34 contests.
Taking the mound for Chicago today will be Matt Garza, who is having a rough first year for the North Siders. Garza sports a miserable 2-5 record and a 4.07 earned run average in 10 starts this season and is coming off an 8-2 loss at Cincinnati on Monday.
Garza lasted a season-low four innings and allowed four runs on six hits and three walks. The right-hander, who started the year 0-3 in his first five trips to the mound, is 1-3 in five road starts and defeated Philadelphia the only time he faced them in the regular season back on June 24, 2009 in a 7-1 victory as a member of Tampa Bay. He allowed one run in eight innings that day and also faced the Phillies in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series, tossing six innings of four-run ball in a no-decision on October 25.
Chicago won four of six versus Philadelphia last season, splitting a two-game series at Citizens Bank Park.