An unthinkable stretch of 19 losses in 20 games ensured the Florida Marlins' first half would be a disappointment, but they did manage to enter the All-Star break on a five-game winning streak.
The Chicago Cubs' first half, on the other hand, was an unmitigated disaster.The Marlins try to win a sixth straight game for the first time since April 2009 on Thursday night when they play the first of four against the Cubs, who hope a 10-game homestand can help them improve the majors' second-worst record.Florida (43-48) was just two games behind NL East-leading Philadelphia at the end of May, but would get no closer. The Marlins went 1-19 to begin June, culminating with a franchise record-tying 11-game skid that dropped them into last place.They're still in the basement -- 14 games behind the Phillies -- but made a solid push heading into the break. Manager Jack McKeon was sad his club had three days off after Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Astros wrapped up a four-game sweep."They enjoy coming to the ballpark and not worrying about being 1-15 or losing eight or nine in a row," McKeon said. "They're all confident. They're looking like they're believing and starting to do the little things."While Florida set a major league record as the fastest team to ever go from 10 games above .500 to 10 games below, the Cubs (37-55) -- with a payroll exceeding $125 million -- were much more consistent in their first-half struggles.Chicago is the majors' lone team without a three-game winning streak, and after Sunday's 9-1 loss at Pittsburgh it went into the break with just one series victory in its last 13.That's hard to swallow for manager Mike Quade, but he's not ready to throw in the towel on his first season in the dugout."It hasn't been a great first half for us, obviously, but these guys do play and they don't quit," Quade said. "Sometimes we don't get it done, sometimes there are things we can't overcome, but they play."Perhaps starting the second half against the Marlins will provide a boost. Chicago's lone sweep of the season came was a pair of victories at Sun Life Stadium from May 18-19, stretching its winning streak in the series to six -- a span in which it's outscored Florida 36-15.The Cubs have to hope the version of Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez (6-2, 3.58 ERA) they'll see Thursday is the one who's given up 12 runs over 7 2/3 innings in two July starts, and not the one who went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA from May 8-June 26.Facing Chicago probably isn't the best way for him to get back on track. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 6.91 ERA in three career starts versus the Cubs, allowing 14 walks and three homers in 14 1/3 innings.He'll be opposed by Matt Garza (4-7, 4.26), who has had two very different July starts. The right-hander went the distance in a 1-0 loss to the White Sox on July 2, then lasted only two innings -- allowing seven runs -- before leaving without a decision in last Thursday's wild 10-9 win at Washington.Garza had a similar performance the last time he faced Florida. He gave up seven runs in a career-low 1 1/3 innings of a 7-4 loss while pitching for Tampa Bay on June 18, 2010.Garza needs to pitch carefully to Logan Morrison, who has 14 RBIs in his last 12 games, and Emilio Bonifacio, who has 11 stolen bases during a 12-game hitting streak.He'll also want to watch out for Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who's two hits shy of 1,000 for his career. Ramirez is a career .190 hitter at Wrigley Field -- his worst average in any NL venue -- but hitting .390 with a major league-best 16 RBIs since June 29.