Cubs: Marquis is coming off a loss to the Brewers. It was his first start after an extended layoff and affected his ability to find his release point. The end result was five walks, including two in the first which loaded the bases in front of Prince Fielder. That wasn't a good move: Fielder cleared them with a double. Marquis has given up three or fewer runs in four straight starts and walked five for the fifth time this year.
Mets: Niese provided the Mets a signifcant lift when, in his second big league start, he pitched eight shutout innings against the Braves on Sept. 13. His next assignment appears to be a far greater challenge. The Cubs feast on left-handed pitching. They won 29 of their first 44 games in which they were opposed by a left-handed starter. But Niese's curve, the one he threw consistently for strikes -- even when he was behind in the count -- against the Braves, is different from most in the big leagues. It's bigger. The Cubs never have seen it. That's to his advantage -- at least it is the first time through the order.
Cubs: Harden had what he called an "ugly" game against the Brewers. He only gave up one hit over five innings, but walked six. He also struck out seven, and had to be pulled because his pitch count had reached 115. Harden had a long layoff before the Milwaukee game because of the Hurricane Ike hiatus, and should do better on a regular routine.
Mets: Santana's fine September continued last Thursday in Washington, where he struck out eight Nationals over seven innings, allowing merely one run. That effort earned him a win, which hasn't always been the case this month -- or this year -- when Santana has pitched well. Of his last six no-decisions, all of them have been quality starts. He has produced a 2.68 ERA in those six games, compared to a 1.36 ERA in his six most recent victories. Santana's next start will be his first against the Cubs since holding them to one run over eight innings back in 2006.
Cubs: Zambrano lasted 1 2/3 innings in his last start, against the Cardinals, much to the disappointment of the 40,000-plus at Wrigley Field. It was his first start since his no-hitter on Sept. 14. Against St. Louis, he gave up eight runs on six hits and three walks over 1 2/3 innings. It was his shortest outing since a 1 1/3-inning start on Sept. 4, 2006, against Pittsburgh. Part of the problem might have been jet lag. Zambrano had returned to Venezuela two days before that start to be with family after his grandmother died.
Mets: Perez's last outing can be considered a success in at least one respect: Hhe appeared done after five innings and 97 pitches, but gave the Mets an additional effective inning -- his most impressive of the night -- to prevent a shaky bullpen from clocking into work even earlier. Perez still hasn't regained his form from a nearly untouchable July, but he has managed to post two consecutive strong outings, both against the same team -- a not-so-small fact that makes the task tougher. He'll finally face a fresh opponent, the Cubs, on Wednesday, marking his first start against them since 2005.
Cubs: Lilly picked up his career-high 16th win in his last start, against the Cardinals on Saturday. That game also was when the Cubs clinched the National League Central. The lefty is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in his last three starts. He's probably happier that he picked up another RBI with a successful suicide squeeze. He's driven in five runs for the second straight season.
Mets: Martinez's third straight loss was similar to the one before it, albeit with some slightly better control. The most vexing coincidence was the fact that Martinez again allowed runs in the first inning -- this time, three of them -- and that the Mets never recovered from that deficit. It's a trend that neither Martinez nor manager Jerry Manuel could explain, but that has ruined some otherwise fine outings this season. He'll look to do better against the Cubs, whom he has not faced this decade.