The Chicago Cubs have been one of the majors' best pitching clubs all season, but they were especially dominant in July behind staff ace Carlos Zambrano.
Zambrano hopes to continue his winning ways in August and lead the Cubs to a series victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday at Wrigley Field.Chicago (66-45) pitchers posted a 3.64 ERA in July, second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers (3.44).Zambrano (12-4, 2.80 ERA) finished the month 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .176 average in five starts. He turned in another dominant performance Tuesday, scattering five hits over eight shutout innings in a 7-1 road victory at Milwaukee."Against any team, any good team, if you're aggressive and you're ahead in the count and you go out there and don't try to do too much, just trying to do your job, things can happen when you hit the spots," said Zambrano, who also struck out a season-high nine.Zambrano takes the mound after his team's 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh (51-59) on Saturday. Geovany Soto had two RBIs and Reed Johnson finished with three hits for the NL Central-leading Cubs, who responded after enduring their first home shutout in Friday's series opener."It's important to stop that kind of momentum when we get into a little rut," manager Lou Piniella told the Cubs' official Web site after his team won for the sixth time in seven games overall.Piniella's club also improved to an NL-best 40-15 at Wrigley Field, where Zambrano is 6-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 11 starts. However, he is only 4-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 10 career home games versus the Pirates.Still, the All-Star right-hander is 10-6 with a 3.93 ERA in 22 lifetime contests against Pittsburgh, going 3-0 with a 2.74 ERA in his last four outings. He gave up two runs and six hits, while striking out six in seven innings of a 12-3 road victory on May 23.Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit is 3-for-10 lifetime versus Zambrano, and had three hits Saturday for the Pirates, who dropped to 19-33 on the road."We couldn't get much going," Pirates manager John Russell said.Pittsburgh fell to 4-10 versus Chicago, but seeks to take the three-game series behind Ian Snell (4-8, 6.04), who won for the first time in seven starts his last outing.The right-hander, who had gone 0-2 with an 8.42 ERA during his winless drought, allowed four runs and eight hits while striking out eight over seven innings of an 8-4 home win over Colorado on Monday."We know he can pitch," Russell said of Snell, who also won for just the second time in 18 outings. "He's proven it. He's just had a tough time this year. It was nice to see him win (Monday night). That's what we've been looking for. Hopefully, it's a turning point."Snell aims to win back-to-back outings for the first time since April 6 and 12, but to accomplish that goal, he'll have to find success versus the Cubs. He is 1-5 with a 5.26 ERA in nine lifetime games against them, and gave up three runs and nine hits in six innings of a 3-2 defeat in Chicago on April 18.Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano is 6-for-12 with three homers and five RBIs versus Snell, while Ryan Theriot (.429) and Aramis Ramirez (.348) have also had success against the Pirates pitcher.