Cubs

LIVE: Baker drives in fourth run, Cubs lead 6-4

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LIVE: Baker drives in fourth run, Cubs lead 6-4

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 11:12 a.m.
Associated Press
The Milwaukee Brewers have turned things around at home after a slow start, but they haven't enjoyed any recent visits from the Chicago Cubs.

Milwaukee will try to win its fourth straight Friday night when it opens a three-game series against the Cubs, who send Carlos Zambrano to the mound looking to win his seventh straight decision at Miller Park.

The Brewers (3-4) were expected to contend in the NL Central, but opened the season with four straight losses.

However, Milwaukee has moved within a game of .500 after closing a four-game set against Atlanta with a 4-2 win Thursday. Nyjer Morgan scored the go-ahead run in the second while Shaun Marcum overcame some early struggles to pitch six effective innings.

"Things can sure change in a hurry and hopefully this gets us rolling," first-year Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

Improved play against Chicago could help the Brewers realize their playoff dreams. The Cubs went 6-3 in Milwaukee last season and have won nine of the last 13 there.

However, it won't be easy for the Brewers against Zambrano (0-0, 4.50 ERA). The right-hander is 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA in his last seven starts at Miller Park, including a no-hitter in 2008 against the Astros in a game relocated there because of a hurricane in Houston.

"I'm a big believer in history repeating itself," Chicago manager Mike Quade told the Cubs' official website. "I love going to Milwaukee and playing there or playing them here. It's a nice rivalry. ... I'm always excited to play those guys, and hopefully 'Z' will set the tone and it'll be good."

Despite Zambrano's success, the Brewers' Prince Fielder is hitting .341 with five doubles, two home runs and 14 walks in 41 at-bats against him. Fielder went 4 for 7 with four RBIs in the final two games against the Braves, raising his average from .176 to .292.

Zambrano, who's had a history of cramps, said he's feeling fine after leaving with them in the seventh inning against Pittsburgh on Saturday. He gave up three runs in six innings of the 5-3 victory.

A successful and healthy Zambrano is particularly important after news broke Wednesday that starters Randy Wells (right forearm strain) and Andrew Cashner (strain in right rotator cuff) would be headed to the 15-day disabled list.

This contest begins a nine-game road trip for Chicago (3-3), and includes stops in Houston and Colorado. The Cubs lost the finale of a three-game set to Arizona 6-4 Wednesday after dropping two of three to Pittsburgh last week.

"There was a lot of good to take out of what I saw on this homestand," Quade said. "I would have liked to have taken all that good stuff and been 5-1 or 4-2, but that's OK."

Randy Wolf (0-1, 13.50), who opposed Zambrano in the no-hitter, will take the mound for the Brewers.

Making his season debut against the Reds on Sunday, Wolf allowed up six runs and 10 hits - including two home runs - in four innings of a 12-3 loss.

The left-hander lost both starts against the Cubs last season, but pitched well on Sept. 11, giving up one run and four hits in eight innings of a 1-0 defeat.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."