Cubs fans will get an extended look at new first sacker Anthony Rizzo during this weekend’s homestand against the Houston Astros. Rizzo went 3 for 7 in his first two games against the Mets. The Cubs’ Paul Maholm will battle Houston‘s Bud Norris in Friday’s series opener. Norris has had an up and down season for the Astros. He looked dominant early in the season but has slumped badly in recent weeks. Norris has dropped four straight decisions. His ERA has risen from 3.14 on May 21 to its current 4.81. Maholm has delivered just six quality starts in 14 outings for the Cubbies.
Matt Garza will take the mound for Chicago on Saturday afternoon. Garza is just 3-6 on the season but he has turned in 10 quality starts in 14 outings. The 28 year old right-hander is likely to become the subject of rampant rade rumors over the next several weeks. J.A.Happ will start for the Astros on Saturday. Happ is 6-7 with a 4.83 ERA in 15 starts.
Houston will send staff ace Wandy Rodriguez to the hill in Sunday’s series finale. The 33 year old lefty is 6-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 16 starts. Like Garza, Rodriguez also figures to be a likely trade target of contending clubs as the trade deadline approaches. Chicago will counter with Travis Wood on Sunday. Wood has been very solid since replacing Chris Volstad in the rotation in late May. Wood has a 3.54 ERA in eight starts and most recently tossed seven scoreless innings in a 6-1 win over the Mets.
In addition to Rizzo’s arrival the Cubs continue to rely on the resurgent Alfonso Soriano for offense. After being written of as over the hill during the off-season the left fielder has bounced back to lead the Cubs in home runs and RBI and rank second to Starlin Castro in total bases. Soriano’s .330 on base percentage is his highest mark since 2008.
The Astros have benefited from surprising contributions from their young keystone combination. The diminutive Jose Altuve has scored 45 runs and stolen 12 bases in 71 games. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, a former Red Sox prospect, has 14 home runs and an impressive .842 OPS in 68 games. Lowrie was acquired over the winter for reliever Mark Melancon.