After going nearly a year without sweeping anybody, the Chicago Cubs are on the verge of posting their second in a row.
Doing so, however, could prove difficult against the Miami Marlins’ Henderson Alvarez, who carries a 21-inning scoreless streak into Sunday’s finale at Wrigley Field.
The last-place Cubs (25-34) have won five in a row after beating the Marlins 5-2 on Saturday. Junior Lake homered twice and Jeff Samardzija threw seven strong innings for Chicago, which took all three meetings from the New York Mets earlier this week for its first sweep since last July 26-28 at San Francisco.
"I really love how we’re playing right now as a team in all phases," Samardzija said. "To win big league ballgames you have to have all three or four phases of the game. … I love the way we’re swinging it right now."
The Cubs haven’t put together six consecutive victories since a seven-game run July 31-Aug. 6, 2011.
"I think everybody’s contributing in some shape or form," manager Rick Renteria said. "There are a lot of different things, a lot of little things. They’re just playing the game."
The Marlins (32-30) will try to bounce back behind Alvarez (3-3, 2.62 ERA), who threw his major league-leading third shutout in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Tampa Bay. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed eight hits and struck out five while throwing just 88 pitches.
"My sinker was working, and thankfully the batters were swinging early," Alvarez said through a translator. "That determines the brevity of the game. I was attacking the strike zone, and they were attacking as well."
Over the last 30 seasons, Alvarez is just the fourth pitcher younger than 25 to record at least three shutouts through his team’s first 58 games. Each of his last four wins dating to last year have come via shutout, the longest such stretch since David Cone in 1992.
"This is a guy, when he’s on and his stuff is sharp, he’s as good as anybody," manager Mike Redmond told MLB’s official website. "He gets a ton of ground balls. He commands that fastball really well. I think the key with him is to just be down in the zone. When he’s down in the zone, he gets a lot of ground balls, and he’s very effective. He gets a lot of quick outs."
While Alvarez is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his last five home outings, he is 0-2 with a 4.13 ERA over six road starts. In his only appearance against the Cubs, Alvarez allowed three runs over six innings in a 4-3 win at Wrigley on Sept. 2.
He will need to be careful against Anthony Rizzo, who is batting .417 with four homers and nine RBIs over the last seven games. The slugging first baseman is hitting .370 with three homers, three doubles and 11 RBIs during an eight-game stretch versus Miami.
The Cubs give the ball to Jake Arrieta (1-1, 3.00), who threw a season-high 105 pitches before exiting with two outs in the fifth inning in Tuesday’s 2-1 walkoff win over the Mets. The right-hander allowed one run, seven hits and three walks while striking out two.
Arrieta is 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA in his last eight home starts dating to last year. This marks his first appearance against Miami.
Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton is 5 for 25 with 11 strikeouts, no homers and just one RBI in his last six road games against the Cubs.