After being swept in their most recent series, the struggling Chicago Cubs won't have it any easier in the opener of a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves on Friday at Wrigley Field.

Chicago (22-29) fell 9-0 to Florida on Wednesday for its season high-tying fourth consecutive loss.

"It has been a little bit frustrating," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, whose team has lost eight of its last 10 and is 10-15 at home. "But everybody's on the same page and we just go forward.''

Oddsmakers have made Chicago -170 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 64% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta +160 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Facing the Braves is usually a challenge for the Cubs, especially at home. Atlanta (30-23) has taken its last four series at Wrigley dating to 2003, last losing a series there April 10-13, 2000.

That doesn't seem to bode well for the Cubs, who managed just five hits and were shut out for the second time this season Wednesday in one of their more lackluster performances of 2007.

Derrek Lee, whose average has dropped from .394 to .352 in the last nine games, has hit safely in four straight, but has one homer and eight strikeouts during that span.

Alfonso Soriano, Chicago's top offseason acquisition, was 0-for-4 Wednesday and is 2-for-14 in his last three games. He had a hamstring injury and did not play when the Cubs and Braves split a two-game April series in Atlanta.

Wednesday's loss came after Cubs players, along with Piniella and team executives, held separate pre-game meetings.

"Going into meetings doesn't guarantee you a win,'' Chicago infielder Ryan Theriot said. "Guys are sitting here talking all the time, so it's not like a meeting is all of a sudden going to turn your season around and make you a championship team."

The Cubs, who hired Piniella and spent $300 million in free agency in the offseason, hit .204 and were outscored 23-7 in the Marlins series. Their bullpen continued to struggle, allowing nine runs in 8 2-3 innings.

"We've got to go out there and believe,'' outfielder Cliff Floyd said. "If you put pressure on yourself, nothing's going to (go) right.''

Carlos Zambrano (5-4, 5.24 ERA) will look for a second straight strong outing when he takes the mound Friday. Zambrano, who has struggled with inconsistency this season, allowed two runs and eight hits in 7 2-3 innings of Chicago's most recent win, 4-2 at Los Angeles on Saturday.

The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.29 ERA in eight starts against the Braves, but hasn't beaten them since July 17, 2002 - a span of six starts.

Atlanta will counter with Kyle Davies (2-3, 5.51), who's coming off his worst outing of 2007. The right-hander allowed eight runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of Atlanta's 13-6 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Davies is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts against the Cubs. He'll be making his Wrigley Field debut.

The Braves won 9-3 at Milwaukee on Wednesday, posting their highest run total since a 14-0 rout at Boston on May 19. Catcher Brian McCann had a three-run double to highlight Atlanta's seven-run eighth inning.

Edgar Renteria went 4-for-5 and Kelly Johnson 3-for-4 with two RBIs for the Braves, who won their first road series since taking two or three from Pittsburgh from May 11-13.

Atlanta, second in the NL East, is 15-12 on the road. The Braves were swept in three games at home by Philadelphia prior to the Brewers series.

"The guys are definitely a lot more relaxed and getting ready for Chicago," pitcher Tim Hudson told the Braves' official Web site.

Renteria, batting .328, is 11-for-29 (.379) with a home run against Zambrano.

Chipper Jones' status is uncertain for Friday after he missed his seventh straight game following a cortisone shot in his right hand. The third baseman, batting .300 on the season, is a .201 hitter in 45 games at Wrigley.

by: Michael Cash - – Email Us

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