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Maholm, Cubs battered by Cards for series loss

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Maholm, Cubs battered by Cards for series loss

ST. LOUIS-- Jake Westbrook allowed one earned run in seven strong innings and rookie Matt Carpenter homered, tripled and drove in five runs in the St. Louis Cardinals' 10-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.Cubs starter Paul Maholm (0-2) surrendered six runs in four innings. The left-hander is 0-7 with a 7.03 ERA in nine starts since his last win on July 10, 2011 against the Cubs when he was with Pittsburgh.Carpenter has been getting regular duty while Lance Berkman recovers from a strained left calf and is batting .409 with 10 RBIs in 22 at-bats. He singled his first two trips with an RBI, belted a two-run shot to straightaway center off Lendy Castillo in the fifth for his first career homer and added a two-run triple off Rodrigo Lopez in the seventh.Berkman missed the weekend series but could be back Tuesday when the Cardinals open a three-game series against the Reds.Yadeir Molina hit a three-run homer in the third and has six RBIs the last three games. Plus he threw out Marlon Byrd attempting to steal in the third.Westbrook (2-0) dropped 20 pounds in the offseason after a disappointing 2011 in which he went 12-9 but with a 4.66 ERA and was virtually unused in the Cardinals' World Series championship run. He pounded his sinker for 12 ground ball outs, and allowed four hits.Reed Johnson had two hits and an RBI for the Cubs, who scored their second run on a wild pitch. They were outscored 15-4 the last two games after hammering Adam Wainwright in St. Louis' home opener for a 9-5 victory.

Westbrook allowed an unearned run in seven innings in his first start at Cincinnati. He's gotten plenty of support, with St. Louis scoring 17 runs his first two outings.The Cardinals needed one hit to score twice in the second, with Carlos Beltran hit by a pitch and Molina walking setting the table to start the inning. Carpenter followed with an RBI single and Shane Robinson beat out the relay on a double play ball for a run-scoring groundout.Rafael Furcal had been 0-for-12 before doubling to start a four-run third capped by Molina's homer.The Cardinals are 12-6 against the Cubs the last two seasons and 8-2 at home.Notes
The Cubs had been 8-for-10 on steals before Byrd was thrown out. ... Westbrook threw first-pitch strikes to nine of his first 11 batters. ... Two members of the Cubs rotation have no wins since July 10, 2011, with Chris Volstad 0-6 with a 4.17 ERA since beating the Astros. ... Beltran is batting .429 (9-for-21) with two homers and six RBIs against Maholm.
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Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.