MIAMI (AP) — On the verge of matching their longest winning streak this season, the Miami Marlins continue to surprise.
The last-place Chicago Cubs have been playing well of late, too.READ MORE: COVID In Florida: Cases, Positivity Rates, Deaths Rise Amid Coronavirus Surge
The Marlins try to keep rolling Friday at Wrigley Field in the opener of a three-game set between the NL’s worst teams from a season ago.
Miami (32-28) had a league-high 100 losses last year but is in a first-place tie atop the NL East after sweeping a four-game, home-and-home series against Tampa Bay. Marcell Ozuna went 3 for 5 with a homer and four RBIs and Giancarlo Stanton added a two-run shot as the Marlins collected a season high-tying 17 hits in Thursday’s 11-6 road win.
It was also a memorable day for catcher J.T. Realmuto, who went 2 for 4 with three RBIs in his major league debut. Casey McGehee was 4 for 5 with a career-best four runs scored.
“It’s not easy sweeping a team,” manager Mike Redmond told MLB’s official website. “Our offense kept the pressure on and we put some good at-bats together. I was happy with the way we competed.”
While Miami looks to match its season-best five-game win streak from May 4-8, Chicago (23-34) seeks a season-high fourth consecutive win after sweeping the New York Mets with Thursday’s 7-4 victory. Anthony Rizzo hit a tie breaking homer in the seventh inning as the Cubs improved to 6-1 in their last seven at home.
It was the first series sweep since last July for Chicago, which has won 10 of 17.
“I know we won three games in a row, whether it’s a sweep or not,” said Rizzo, batting .370 with three homers, six RBIs and 10 runs over the last eight games. “It’s just nice to win … especially in a series where we played good baseball.”
The Cubs turn to Jason Hammel (6-3, 2.78 ERA), who has proven to be a bargain after signing a one-year, $6 million deal in February.READ MORE: 'Biggest Tragedy Is Preventable Loss Of Life': Memorial Healthcare System Chief Urges Public To Get COVID Vaccine
The right-hander is averaging a career-low 1.89 walks per nine innings and has limited opponents to a .187 average, baseball’s second-lowest mark.
“He’s a veteran,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He commands his emotions and is meticulous in his preparations and that’s how he’s able to attack hitters the way he wants to.”
Hammel racked up a season-high eight strikeouts and didn’t walk anyone over seven innings of four-hit ball in Saturday’s 8-0 win at Milwaukee.
He’s 1-3 with a 6.14 ERA in four starts against the Marlins but hasn’t faced them since 2011.
Miami counters with Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.24), who is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA over his last three starts. The right-hander yielded two runs over a season-high eight innings in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Atlanta.
“I feel like this is the best I’ve located my fastball all season,” Eovaldi said. “I felt like my slider was pretty consistent as well.”
While Eovaldi is 3-1 with a 2.49 ERA at home, he’s gone 1-1 with a 4.50 mark over five road outings. He has never faced Chicago.
Stanton is batting .344 with six long balls and 14 RBIs in 16 games against the Cubs since 2011. Miami went 3-4 against Chicago last year.
Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who spent the previous two years with Miami, faces his former team for the first time. He is hitting .231 with one homer in 22 games.MORE NEWS: Florida Becoming Epicenter Of Coronavirus Outbreak
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