Angels-Cubs preview

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Angels meet on Tuesday for the first time since the first week of the season.

Their respective fortunes since then couldn't be more contrasting.

Chicago (69-41) is on a post-All-Star Game roll with baseball's best record, a seven-game winning streak, victories in 10 of its last 11 contests and a double-digit game lead in the National League Central.

"(We're) firing on all cylinders right now," right-hander Jake Arrieta (13-5, 2.59 ERA) told reporters over the weekend after working eight strong innings in a 4-0 win over the Oakland Athletics. "We're playing good baseball, there's always things to improve on (but) there's things to be happy about."

The teams open a two-game series kicking off a 10-game homestand for the Cubs.

Chicago sends right-hander John Lackey (8-7, 3.70 ERA) against righty Jered Weaver (8-8, 5.11 ERA) in the series opener. Jason Hammel (11-5, 3.07 ERA) is scheduled for Wednesday's start against Los Angeles right-hander Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.23 ERA).

The Angels (49-62) have limped through late July and early August with 10 losses in their last 16 contests, including a current four-game losing streak.

Los Angeles came out of the All-Star break with six straight victories and sparked slim hopes at a run for a wild-card spot. But the subsequent slump left the Angels hovering near the AL West cellar and the need to leapfrog six teams to secure one of two wild card berths.

Manager Mike Scioscia insisted his team hadn't given up even after a pair of trades involving a starter and reliever.

"There's absolutely no white flag being run up," he told reporters last week.

The Angels sent their top starter - left-hander Hector Santiago (10-4) - to Minnesota for Nolasco and a prospect. Los Angeles separately traded sidearm reliever Joe Smith (1-4, 3.82 ERA, six saves) to the Cubs for a minor league pitcher.

The Angels also pulled the plug last week on an experiment with two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. He was designated for assignment last Saturday after posting 2-6 record, 9.16 ERA and 2.37 WHIP in nine appearances.

Lincecum, who had surgery last year to repair a torn labrum in his hip, signed a one-year deal with the Angels in May.

The departures of Santiago, Lincecum plus others currently on disabled list with a variety of ailments, leaves Weaver, Matt Shoemaker (6-12, 4.07 ERA) and Nolasco as staff aces.

Not all is bleak. Outfielder Mike Trout, who turned 25 on Sunday, remains a highlight for the Angels. He has a big league-best .427 on-base percentage, is tied for second in runs scored (88) and owns a .316 batting average.

Albert Pujols, meanwhile, needs two home runs to reach 583 for his career and a 10th place all-time tie with Mark McGwire.

The Cubs enter the series 11-4 in interleague play this season, are a season-high 28 games over .500 and with two-thirds of the season in the books are on track for 101 wins.

They finally got Jorge Soler back from the disabled list (hamstring). Soler went 2-for-4 on Sunday against the A's and has five RBIs since coming off the disabled list on Saturday.

Chicago increasingly looks likely for a second straight postseason berth. Even when the Cubs were struggling, manager Joe Madden insisted they'd be all right and were capable of a strong run similar to how they started the season (25-6).

The Cubs lost 15 of 20 prior to the All-Star break. They beat the Pirates 6-5 last month to close the first half and then picked up after the break with 17 wins in their next 23 games.

"It's just trending in the right direction," Maddon said.