(Sports Network) - The San Diego Padres are pulling away in the National League West and look to further distance themselves from the rest of the division this afternoon, when they shoot for a rare four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs from historic Wrigley Field.
The Padres have never swept the Cubs in four games in the Windy City, but did win a four-game series between the teams at Petco Park from May 5-8, 2006. They've won the first three portions of this set and are coming off Wednesday's 5-1 triumph in which starter Clayton Richard stymied the opposition with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball to improve to 11-5 this season.
"You can't look at your opponent -- even if they're struggling -- because everyone is here for a reason," Richard said. "As a pitcher, we have to attack them as the best hitters out there. [The Cubs] deserve respect, they're big league hitters."
Adrian Gonzalez clubbed his 23rd homer and scored three times for the Padres, who have won nine of 10 games and pushed their lead atop the NL West to six games over San Francisco. The Giants dropped their third straight game last night in Philadelphia. Matt Stairs knocked in two runs in a winning effort.
San Diego will pay a visit to Milwaukee following its series in the Second City.
Surprising Padres starter Mat Latos will make his 23rd start of the season today and is 12-5 with a 2.32 earned run average. Latos is 7-1 over his last eight decisions, but did not factor in the outcome of a 3-2 loss at San Francisco last Saturday.
Latos pitched well enough for the win, allowing only one run on five hits through six innings of work. He has pitched at least six innings in three straight and six of his last seven trips to the mound.
The right-hander, who is 8-3 in 14 road starts this season, will face the Cubs for only the second time in his career. Latos lost to Chicago back on August 19 of last season, as he permitted five runs and seven hits in just 3 2/3 frames of a 7-1 loss.
Chicago made some news before losing for the third straight time by dealing two-time All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday for three minor league pitchers. Lee rejected a deal to Anaheim in July, but was willing to join the NL East-leading Braves for a possible run to the playoffs.
"It's tough. That's the hardest part just leaving your teammates, especially having to play against them this weekend," Lee said during a news conference. "I had a great time here. I grew as a player, grew as a person."
Lee also stated how it was disappointing not to win a championship for the title-plagued Cubs and enjoyed playing in front of the Wrigley Field crowd. He also said joining an Atlanta team that is in contention of going to the postseason was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
He will switch dugouts when the Braves land in Chicago tomorrow for a weekend series.
The news of losing perhaps their best offensive player didn't sit well with the Cubs, who got a team-best two hits from Alfonso Soriano. Jeff Baker drove in the team's only run during the second inning and Xavier Nady went 1-for-3 with a double in Lee's spot at first base.
Casey Coleman pitched the first 4 1/3 innings for the Cubs and yielded three runs on six hits and three walks.
"It's a good learning experience, first time out as a starter," Coleman said. "Facing a good team -- first place. It's a team with that lineup [Wednesday] that's going to put pressure on you with all the lefties and speed they had in there. I just have to do a better job of throwing strikes and getting ahead and putting the pressure on them."
Taking the mound for the Cubs this afternoon will be Carlos Zambrano, who is set to start for the third time since his team-imposed suspension. He did not record a decision on August 9 in a loss at San Francisco and allowed two runs in five innings. He last toed the rubber in Saturday's 3-2 road victory over St. Louis and tossed 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball, improving to 4-6 in 27 games (11 starts) to go along with a 5.27 earned run average.
Zambrano has pitched well in his career against San Diego, going 6-2 with a 2.71 earned run average in 10 starts.
The Padres and Cubs are meeting for the first time since San Diego took five of nine matchups a year ago. The Padres had lost five straight at Wrigley Field before winning Monday's opener of this series.