After a couple of shaky outings followed his no-hitter, Johan Santana returned to All-Star form his last time out.
He could be primed for another strong outing in the New York Mets' series opener at Wrigley Field on Monday night considering how poorly the Chicago Cubs have been hitting, especially against left-handers.
The Mets (39-34) arrive in Chicago after dropping the final two games of their weekend series with the New York Yankees by one run apiece. There was an extra buzz at Citi Field on Sunday night with R.A. Dickey on the mound after consecutive one-hitters, but the knuckleballer was roughed up in a 6-5 loss.
"It didn't quite live up to the billing," he said. "But golly, I'm so proud of our guys who scrapped and fought. We can build off that."
Coming off their first defeat with Dickey on the mound since April 30, the Mets turn to the other half of the imposing one-two punch atop their starting rotation.
Santana (5-3, 3.00 ERA) allowed four hits and two walks in six innings of Tuesday's 5-0 win over Baltimore, his best performance since his June 1 no-hitter against St. Louis. He had permitted 10 runs in 10 innings in between.
"I think it was really big for Johan," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He had much better stuff. That no-hitter took it out of him."
A start against a Cubs team that owns the majors' worst record seems unlikely to be as draining.
Chicago (24-48) returns home after finishing with four hits in Sunday's 5-1 loss at Arizona, its fourth straight loss and 16th in 22 games this month. The offense has been awful during the current skid, scoring one run or zero three times and going 3 for 32 (.094) with runners in scoring position.
"When we are winning I am tired, but when we are losing and get swept it is mental," outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. "Losing like we are losing now is tough. The way we are losing is not acceptable."
Soriano homered Sunday, his NL-best 14th since May 15, but he is hitless in 13 career at-bats against Santana.
If he struggles again Monday against Santana, who has posted a 1.61 ERA in winning his three career starts versus Chicago, he probably won't be alone.
The Cubs, who managed three hits and a walk in eight innings against lefty Wade Miley on Sunday, are hitting .215 against southpaws this season and are 3-16 when facing left-handed starters.
Chicago counters with a lefty of its own in Travis Wood (1-3, 4.14), who gave up a run, four hits and four walks in six innings of Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. That marked Wood's first victory as a starter since June 15, 2011, when he beat the Los Angeles Dodgers while pitching for Cincinnati.
"Get the first one, get the monkey off your back, and hopefully, you start rolling from here," he said.
In spite of the lengthy winless drought, Wood has pitched well lately, posting a 2.92 ERA in his four starts this month.
Wood's lone start against the Mets came on July 5, 2010, when he allowed five runs in 4 2-3 innings. David Wright, who went 2 for 4 Sunday to become baseball's leading hitter with a .360 average, was 2 for 3 with a triple off Wood, but is hitting .240 in his last seven games at Wrigley.
New York went 2-4 against the Cubs last season and has lost eight of 11 on Chicago's North Side since 2008.