A week ago, the Chicago Cubs used a series victory at Arizona to kick off their longest winning streak of the season.
Now, the Diamondbacks hope they are headed for similar success at the expense of the Cubs.
Following an offensive breakout, the visiting Diamondbacks eye a third consecutive victory over the Cubs on Saturday. A fourth win in a row on Sunday would match Arizona’s longest winning streak of the season.
That’s heady stuff for a team that entered the series amid a six-game losing streak in last place in the National League West.
After dropping the opener of last weekend’s series at Arizona, Chicago won the next two and the following two at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks’ 4-2 loss to the Cubs on May 14 was the first of six consecutive defeats.
However, after opening the four-game series in Chicago by winning 3-1 on Thursday, the Diamondbacks used a season-high seven home runs — three by Josh Rojas — to beat the Cubs 10-6 on Friday. Arizona had averaged 3.3 runs over the previous nine contests.
“You flush the negatives (from the losing streak) and you come into this series with a fresh mindset,” Rojas said, according to the Arizona Republic, after blasting his first home runs of the season, which made him 6-for-15 with five RBIs in the past four games.
Arizona rookie Alek Thomas, a Chicago native, went deep Friday and is batting .333 with three homers in 13 games since making his major league debut on May 8.
The Diamondbacks’ scheduled Saturday starter, Madison Bumgarner (2-2, 2.29 ERA), has thrown the ball relatively well this season despite yielding a season-high three runs and six hits over five innings of a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday.
The 32-year-old left-hander posted a 1.17 ERA in five April starts but owns a 4.38 ERA in three this month.
Bumgarner has been consistently solid against the Cubs, going 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 15 career starts.
Jonathan Villar, who hit one of Chicago’s four homers on Friday, is 5-for-7 with two doubles and a home run in his career against Bumgarner.
Since making his major league debut on Tuesday, Chicago’s Christopher Morel has made an immediate impact, producing four hits in 11 at-bats, including with two home runs and three RBIs.
With two losses in a row, scheduled Chicago starter Justin Steele (1-4, 4.50 ERA) has not won since the second game of the season — six successive starts without a winning decision.
Still, the left-hander is coming off the best outing of his season. On Sunday, he allowed the Diamondbacks just two runs (one earned) on three hits with a career-best 10 strikeouts. He left after six innings with the score tied, and the Cubs went on to win 3-2.
It was a much-needed strong outing for Steele, who failed to pitch into the fifth inning in any of his previous four starts.
“What’s hurt him has not been stuff,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s been long at-bats, long innings, and the next thing you know, you’re in the third or fourth and you have a high pitch count. So, being able to manage that has been one of our No. 1 goals.”
–Field Level Media