April 04, 2014

The Chicago Cubs are hitting with authority again following a temporary slump. It's a trend John Lackey would like to see continue.

Chicago hopes to provide Lackey with the support he hasn't had lately when the NL leaders attempt to sweep the offensively challenged Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.

After mustering six runs during a season-high three-game losing streak May 21-23, Chicago (33-14) has returned to its heavy-hitting ways in winning its last four. The Cubs are batting .307 with six homers and 31 runs during the surge while posting a .529 slugging percentage, compared to .332 during the skid.

Chicago homered three times in a 6-2 win in Friday's opener of this three-game set, then put up three early runs en route to Saturday's 4-1 victory. Dexter Fowler delivered a leadoff homer, and Ben Zobrist added an RBI double in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 13 games.

Lackey (4-2, 3.38 ERA) has not had the luxury of significant offensive help during a three-start winless stretch in which opponents have hit .162 against him. The veteran right-hander threw eight sharp innings in a 1-0 loss to San Diego on May 11 and took a no-decision in a 2-1 win at Milwaukee a week later, though he couldn't hold a 3-1 lead in his most recent outing.

The former Cardinal limited St. Louis to one run over six innings Monday, but surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Matt Adams in the seventh that helped send the Cubs to a 4-3 loss.

''When you're playing tight and close games, low-scoring games like that, one pitch can be the difference and it was (Monday) for sure,'' said Lackey, who struck out nine while yielding just four hits.

Lackey has produced a 2.25 ERA over a stretch of five straight quality starts and could be in line for another against Philadelphia (26-23), which has scored two or fewer runs in five of its last eight games while going 2-6. The Phillies are second-to-last in the majors in runs and homers.

They were held to five hits Saturday in Kyle Hendricks' second career complete game, a near-shutout spoiled by Freddy Galvis scoring from third when Ryan Howard struck out on a pitch in the dirt in the ninth.

''I don't want to take anything away from Hendricks because he is a damn good pitcher and I like him a lot,'' manager Pete Mackanin said. ''But I feel like we took pitches we should've hit and we swung at pitches we shouldn't have swung at.''

Philadelphia fell to 1-4 on a six-game trip that began with Vince Velasquez's shortest start of the season, four-plus innings in which the talented right-hander surrendered three solo homers and a season-high nine hits Monday at Detroit.

Velasquez (5-1, 2.75) had allowed three homers over his first eight starts and was coming off a strong outing against Miami on May 17, recording 10 strikeouts over five scoreless innings in a 3-1 win.

The 23-year-old enters his first meeting with Chicago sporting a 4.50 ERA on the road compared to 0.74 at Citizens Bank Park.

Velasquez will face a red-hot hitter in Zobrist, batting .451 over his streak following Saturday's 2-for-4 effort.

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