NL Central Showdown

Despite their season-high six-game win streak, the Chicago Cubs have barely made up any ground on the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

That won't be the case this weekend if they keep winning.

The NL Central's top teams open a three-game series on Friday as the Cubs and Brewers meet at Wrigley Field.

Oddsmakers have made Chicago -125 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at NL total runs (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 72% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago -125 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

"Winning is like a massage," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It's like a relaxer. You start playing with more confidence."

Chicago is riding its longest win streak since a run of seven consecutive victories from May 27-June 2, 2005. A win Friday would bring the Cubs (38-39) back to .500 for the first time since they were 16-16 on May 10.

"It's an important series for us. We're playing well, we got some nice momentum and we're getting ourselves close to the .500 mark," Piniella said. "Milwaukee is a fine club and it will be a nice challenge for us."

The Cubs' 15 wins since June 3 are the most in the majors, a stretch which began with the team winning two of three games at Milwaukee (46-32). Chicago's division deficit going into that series was 7 1-2 games, and that is where it stands heading into this one because the Brewers are 14-7 in the same span.

Milwaukee has won eight of nine, posting a 3.07 ERA and holding opponents to a .215 batting average.

That staff hopes to cool off the little-known player who has sparked Chicago's resurgence - Mike Fontenot. The 5-foot-8, 160-pound infielder is batting .408 in 20 games since being called up from the minors, driving in 13 runs and scoring 15.

Fontenot went 9-for-13 with a homer, four doubles, four RBIs and five runs during Chicago's three-game sweep of Colorado this week.

"I've never been in this kind of a zone," Fontenot said. "I've been trying to put a good swing on the ball. I've been getting extra-base hits pretty much my whole career."

While Fontenot has solidified the No. 2 spot in Chicago's lineup, Alfonso Soriano has played well from the leadoff spot lately with a .389 average (14-for-36) and four homers over the last eight games.

Fontenot and Soriano look to maintain their production to support Cubs left-hander Rich Hill (5-5, 3.13 ERA), who hopes to be regaining his early season form following a solid effort on Saturday. He allowed one run and six hits with six strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings against the Chicago White Sox, but did not get a decision in the 2-1 victory.

"This was a big confidence builder for myself," said Hill, who gave up three homers and five runs in three innings against San Diego in his previous start.

He's won only once in nine outings - seven were Cubs losses - since going 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA in his first six starts of the season.

Hill split two starts against the Brewers back in April, allowing five runs and seven hits in 13 2-3 innings.

While the Cubs are coming off consecutive series sweeps for the first time since April 2004, the Brewers completed a three-game sweep of Houston on Wednesday when Damian Miller's three-run homer in the 11th inning gave them a 6-3 victory.

"We come into this clubhouse everyday expecting to win," center fielder Bill Hall told the Brewers' official Web site. "We know we're going to win that day. It doesn't always happen, but at least having the confidence to do that helps out a lot."

The Brewers, who are 4-5 against the Cubs this season, and will give rookie right-hander Yovani Gallardo (1-0, 2.70) his third career start - first on the road. Gallardo has allowed a total of four runs and nine hits while striking out 12 in 13 1-3 innings.

He gave up a run and five hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings of Sunday's 4-3 home loss to Kansas City.

by: Dave Michaels - thespread.com – Email Us

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