In the finale of a series between former National League Central rivals that has not exactly been a scoring fest thus far, a couple of talented starters take to the Wrigley Field mound Sunday to settle matters between the Cubs and Astros for the 2013 season.
Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija will take the ball in the rubber match, meeting 23-year-old Astros right-hander Jordan Lyles, who's simply one of the hottest starters in the game this month. The two teams combined for 11 runs in two tightly contested games this weekend, and this pitching matchup doesn't seem like an invitation for more offense.
Lyles, who already has bounced between the Majors and the Minors a few times in his young career, is making his presence in the Astros' rotation known right now with a torrid June. He's 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in four starts this month.
"For the most part, I've made them put the ball on the ground and get some quick outs," said Lyles, who is 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA against the Cubs in his career. "Going into a start, that's really what you're looking for -- quick outs, quick innings. You try to get as many innings as you can to help the bullpen. For the most part, we've done that lately."
Lyles' results have gotten progressively better this time around, but he says there really hasn't been any change in approach or preparation. He's ready to make this the time he sticks.
"I had to go down a couple times, but I'm here now and I'm going to try and continue what I've been doing lately. If I can do that, I'll be here much longer," he said.
Samardzija, meanwhile, has established himself as a top-flight starter, taking the ball Opening Day and steadily posting solid efforts. He's coming off a start against the Cardinals in which he went 8 1/3 innings to get the victory, allowing two runs on seven hits while striking out six and walking just one.
Samardzija improved his June 2013 mark to 1-1 with a 4.73 ERA, a step in the right direction after posting a 10.41 ERA last June.
"I really wanted to kick this June bugaboo," Samardzija said after the strong start against the Cardinals. "I've been working real hard and I just like where I'm at right now."
Astros: Krauss awaits first start
With Cubs left-hander Travis Wood starting Saturday, recently-promoted left-handed-hitting outfielder Marc Krauss didn't get his first start, but he did get a second pinch-hitting opportunity, grounding out in the seventh inning after striking out in his first Major League at-bat Friday.
With right-hander Samardzija on the mound, Sunday could be an opportunity for his first Major League start, but at least he got to get a taste of Wrigley Field, roaming the outfield for the first time after a rainy Friday opener.
"I'm glad we hit outside today," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "It gave him a chance to take some balls off the bat here at Wrigley Field."
Cubs: Rizzo dealing with ups and downs
Cubs manager Dale Sveum knows first baseman Anthony Rizzo will have his ups and downs, and he knows Rizzo has the ability to deal with adversity on the baseball field. Rizzo certainly has dealt with adversity in his life, having battled cancer in 2008, so any hitting struggles are "minute compared to what he had to deal with off the field," Sveum said.
"The adversity of hitting is one of the hardest things to deal with," Sveum said of Rizzo, who was called up a year ago next week. "He's obviously dealt with adversity off the field in his life."
Rizzo, who has struggled to a .188 June batting average, had a three-game hitting streak snapped when he went 0-for-2 with a pair of walks Saturday. He hit his first home run since May 18 on Friday, snapping a drought of 108 at-bats.
• The Cubs barely had time to unpack on this three-game homestand, the only home cooking in a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road through July 4. They head out for a 10-day road trip through Milwaukee, Seattle and Oakland, kicking it off Monday against the Brewers at Miller Park.
• The Astros, meanwhile, head home but continue their NL Central nostalgia tour with a two-game visit from the Cardinals, followed by a visit from their new division foes in the AL West, the Angels.
• While in the National League, the Astros played their first three games in the league and last three games in the league against the Cubs.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.