Cubs have quietly won six straight

The last time the Chicago Cubs won seven games in a row, they went on to win the NL Central. Another division crown is unlikely to happen, and just matching that win streak may prove difficult against Johnny Cueto.

The Cubs look to continue their surprising surge and possibly prevent Cueto from becoming the NL’s ERA leader when they face the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

Chicago (48-65) won its sixth straight Friday with a 4-3 victory over Cincinnati. The club hadn’t won more than three consecutive games in 2011 before this streak, which equals its longest from last season.

The Cubs last won seven straight from Aug. 23-29, 2008, en route to their most recent playoff appearance, but the postseason appears out of reach this year as they sit fifth in the Central.

“Everybody loves winning,” manager Mike Quade told the Cubs’ official website. “I think these guys have hung in all year long. Things pick up when you win and the way we’re doing it as far as picking each other up.”

Chicago’s win streak may be in for its stiffest test yet versus Cueto (7-4, 1.72 ERA), who hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 16 starts this year. Maintaining that streak for at least 3 1-3 innings Saturday will qualify his ERA as the lowest in the NL, currently owned by San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong (2.19).

The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.48 ERA in his last four starts against Chicago. Cueto went six innings in a 2-0 victory at Wrigley on May 8 to win his only game versus the Cubs this year, and he’s allowed one run in his last 19 innings against them.

He was dazzling in his latest trip to the mound Sunday, tossing a three-hitter in a 9-0 win over San Francisco.

“He’s learning to pitch to contact early in the game,” catcher Ramon Hernandez said. “He’s not trying to overpower anybody; he doesn’t try to strike out every hitter.”

His latest performance helped the Reds (54-58) complete a three-game sweep of the reigning World Series champion, but they’ve since dropped three of four.

They lead the majors with 26 one-run defeats and own a .185 average with runners in scoring position during a 2-6 run on the road, going 1 for 8 on Friday.

“Seems like we can’t get the big hit when we need a clutch hit,” manager Dusty Baker said.

Brandon Phillips had two hits Friday and is batting .339 with five doubles and 11 RBIs in 13 games, but he’s 2 for 22 with one homer over the last three seasons versus Carlos Zambrano, Saturday’s scheduled starter.

Zambrano (8-6, 4.46) has a 2.41 ERA over his last three starts and is coming off his second win in that span, allowing one run in six innings of Monday’s 5-3 victory at Pittsburgh.

“Personally I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball good,” said Zambrano, who also has singled in three straight starts and is batting .333 on the season.

Zambrano held the Reds scoreless for five innings in his only start against them May 16 but allowed six runs in the sixth of a 7-4 loss. He was 7-1 with a 1.56 ERA in his previous eight starts against them.

Tony Campana will try to spark the Cubs again after getting three hits Friday, including an inside-the-park home run – his first career homer. The rookie is 6 for 14 against the Reds this season.

“He’s been a real good addition off the bench for sure,” Quade said.

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