It's hard to believe the Houston Astros are playing better than anybody, but that may be the case in comparison to their next opponent.
The Chicago Cubs have dropped 11 of 12 as they start a three-game set Monday night against the Astros, who arrive in Wrigley Field after capturing a series for the first time since June.
Houston (38-78) has dropped 24 of 26 on the road, where it is 11-46. The Astros, however, took two of three at home from Milwaukee over the weekend to win a series for the first time since June 22-24 over Cleveland."This is a positive change, winning two of three," shortstop Marwin Gonzalez said. "We hope it's an awakening for the team and that we continue to see positive results."
Chicago (44-69), meanwhile, has lost three straight after Sunday's 3-0 defeat to Cincinnati. The Cubs have been outscored 60-31 during this 12-game stretch that began close to the trade deadline.
This is the third series between these clubs, which traded three-game sweeps at home in the first two.
Only 33 runs have been scored in the six games - hardly surprising since Chicago has scored a major league-low 414 runs, and Houston 437 for baseball's third-worst total.
Jeff Samardzija (7-10, 4.21 ERA) is well aware of the Cubs' struggles at the plate. His run support average of 3.19 is the second-lowest mark in the majors, and Chicago has scored two or fewer runs for him in 11 of his last 12 outings.
Samardzija got no support as he gave up one run over seven innings Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat at San Diego.
The right-hander's lone career start against Houston was a 5-1 road loss May 23 when he yielded two runs over six innings.
Armando Galarraga (0-2, 4.70) will make his fourth start for the Astros. It's also the fourth of his career against the Cubs, against whom he is 2-1 with a 4.95 ERA.
Galarraga has issued 13 walks over 10 1-3 innings in dropping consecutive starts, walking six and allowing three runs over five-plus innings Wednesday in a 4-3 loss to Washington.
"I need to be honest with myself," he said. "Six walks after seven walks. There's not an excuse for that."
Chicago's Alfonso Soriano is 5 for 9 with three homers off the right-hander.
Galarraga will likely have a new batterymate since the Astros have activated catcher Jason Castro off the disabled list.
Castro, out since July 7 with a knee injury, went 3 for 3 and played nine innings behind the plate in a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday night.
"He's swung the bat so well on his rehab, we're getting him back at a good time - it appears, anyway," manager Brad Mills told the Astros' official website. "There's no doubt a guy with his tools and his ability, to get him back is going to be nice."
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|July 31, 2012||Wilton Lopez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow tightness|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 14, 2012||Jed Lowrie||Day-to-Day||Right ankle|
|July 08, 2012||Jason Castro||15-Day DL||Fluid in right knee|
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||15-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 13, 2012||Ian Stewart||15-Day DL||Sore left wrist|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Jeff Samardzija did the pitching, teammate Matt Garza did the counting.
Samardzija struck out a career high-tying 11 in seven innings and the Chicago Cubs beat the Houston Astros 7-1 on Monday night.
Samardzija (8-10) allowed one run and four hits. He also fanned 11 at Atlanta on July 2.
After striking out the side in the fourth, he fanned Jason Castro leading off the fifth for his fifth consecutive strikeout.
"I knew I was on a good run in middle of the game, but Garza came up to me after the game and said, `Can't get that elusive 12.' Whatever. He has a way of letting me know. If anyone is not paying attention, he is."
Darwin Barney and Alfonso Soriano hit two-run homers and Anthony Rizzo had four hits for the Cubs.
Chicago won for just the second time in 13 games. The Astros have lost 25 of its last 27 road games.
The crowd of 31,452 was the smallest of the season at Wrigley Field.
The Astros, who have the worst record in the majors, got their run on the first career homer by rookie Brandon Barnes , a pinch-hit shot in the sixth.
Armando Galarraga (0-3) was tagged for five runs and seven hits.
"Two home runs cost me the game. Believe it or not, it was a better start than the last couple. I threw more strikes, threw everything I wanted to. I just missed those two. Soriano, it was the first pitch. He got me. The first one hurt because it was a bad pitch," Galarraga said.
Samardzija came into the game with the second-lowest run support in the majors at 3.19. Chicago had scored two or fewer runs for him in 11 of his last 12 outings.
"Sure. It's something to think about when a teammate is out there battling, picking up quality starts and you're not scoring any runs for him," Barney said.
Starlin Castro led off the Cubs second with a single and two outs later, Barney hit his sixth homer.
"The big thing in the second inning was the inability to make some pitches. We had Castro 0-2 and he singled to start that rally. Then Barney hit the two-run homer, and the second home run from Soriano really put us in a hole," Astros manager Brad Mills .
In the third, Rizzo singled home Josh Vitters to give Samardzija a three-run cushion.
After Rizzo singled in the fifth, Soriano hit his 21st home run.
Welington Castillo had an RBI infield single in the seventh and Vitters drove in Barney with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Barnes, called up from the minors on Aug. 7, homered in his fourth big league game.
NOTES: Lucas Harrell , Tuesday's scheduled starter for Houston, will try for his 10th win of the season. He ranks first among NL rookies in innings pitched. ... Cubs starter Chris Volstad will try to win his first game since July 10, 2011, on Tuesday. He has not won in 22 starts. ... Astros C Jason Castro was back in the lineup after missing nearly a month with a right knee contusion. He was 1 for 4 and struck out three times.