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Final: Cardinals 6, #Cubs 0

Jon Lester out-hit the Cardinals through the first six innings Monday night, but he and the Cubs couldn’t hold St. Louis down. The Cardinals posted a 6-0 win over the Cubs to improve to 8-2 this season in head to head competition. The game was much closer than the score indicates as St. Louis added four runs in a sloppy ninth against Edwin Jackson.

Lester had his best outing, giving up two hits over seven innings, and striking out eight. It wasn’t good enough, and he now has lost a career-high nine straight starts. He has a 3.29 ERA in that stretch.

“He was hitting all his spots tonight and he was tough in the beginning,” St. Louis’ Kolten Wong said. “We were trying to figure out how to approach him when he was spotting up and throwing every pitch for a strike. I thought it was good toward the end that we started getting more aggressive on his fastballs and just put good at-bats together.”

The lefty even ended his 0-for-66 hitless streak with an infield single in the second inning, connecting off his former teammate and friend John Lackey.

“He doesn’t have a bad swing, he really doesn’t, technically,” manager Joe Maddon said of Lester. “He’s hit some balls really hard this year with some bad luck. Hopefully, it’s going to lead to more hits. It’s one of those quirky things. And there’s a lot of guys with a lot worse swings than he has that have gotten hits. That’s how this game plays sometimes.”

Lester called the hit “worthless” because the Cubs lost. Lackey joked that he would autograph the ball. The two were headed out for a post-game beer Monday.

The Cubs are at the halfway point of the season, and still on pace to win 88 games.

“I’m always a 90-win kind of guy,” Maddon said. “NInety plus is a nice number and we haven’t hit that real good streak yet.”

What is it about the Cardinals that makes them so tough?

“They’re a veteran team,” Lester said. “They do everything right. They make the plays when they’re in front of them. They have timely hitting. They understand it takes nine innings to win a baseball game. We’re close. We’ve got a bunch of young guys who are trying to — I don’t want to say ‘survive’ because they’re beyond that point. They’re too good to survive. When
you’re used to winning, you understand how to win. That will take some time here. The guys who have been a part of this
organization haven’t won for a long time. That’ll take some time to learn and sometimes I think nights like this get
overshadowed by the other side.”

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs Lester gets 1st ML hit

Jon Lester’s long hitless nightmare is over.

The Cubs pitcher recorded his first Major League hit with an infield single off the Cardinals’ John Lackey in the second inning Monday night to end an 0-for-66 career hitless streak that began in 2006.

Lester smacked an 0-2 pitch literally off Lackey, his former Red Sox teammate, as the ball deflected off the pitcher and towards shortstop. Lester ran to first, and had a sheepish smile. The Cubs got the ball so he can have the souvenir.

The lefty, who is pitching in the National League for the first time in his career, also was unable to connect in the post season, and was 0-for-5 in the playoffs, so he now is 1-for-72.

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs Rizzo, Bryant named to NL All-Star team

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant were named to the 2015 National League All-Star team, and they’ll play in the July 14 game at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.

Rizzo was elected to the NL team by the player vote, while Bryant was selected by NL manager Bruce Bochy.

Rizzo, elected to the All-Star game by way of the NL Final Vote ballot last season, becomes only the second first baseman in franchise history to earn All-Star honors in consecutive seasons and the first in nearly 70 years, joining Phil Cavarretta from 1946-47. Rizzo is only the fifth first baseman in Cubs history with multiple All-Star appearances, joining Ernie Banks (five as a first baseman), Mark Grace (three times), Phil Cavarretta (three times) and Derrek Lee (two times). At 25 years of age, Rizzo remains the youngest All-Star first baseman in Cubs history.

Bryant becomes the first rookie third baseman to ever represent the Cubs at the All-Star Game, and the first rookie overall since catcher Geovany Soto and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome started the game in 2008.  Along with Soto and Fukudome, Bryant is only the sixth rookie Cub All-Star in franchise history, joining pitcher Sam Jones (1955), catcher Toby Atwell (1952, did not play) and second baseman Dan Johnson (1944, did not play).

At 23, Bryant is the youngest Cubs third baseman to be elected an All-Star since 23-year-old Ron Santo earned his first selection in 1963. Bryant is the first third baseman to represent the Cubs at the All-Star Game since Aramis Ramirez in 2008 and one of only three All-Star Cubs third basemen in the last 40 seasons (also Vance Law, 1988).

#Cubs Rizzo in NL All-Star gear

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#Cubs Rizzo, Bryant named to NL All-Star team

The Cubs’ youth will be recognized at the All-Star Game as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were both named to the National League team on Monday.

Rizzo, who will be making his second trip to the All-Star Game, was selected by the players while Bryant was picked by Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Bryant is the first Cubs rookie to get the honor since Geovany Soto in 2008.

Rizzo is fourth in the NL in OPS behind the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, the D-Backs’ Paul Goldschmidt and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. He also ranks among the NL leaders in extra-base hits (41), doubles (24), and on-base percentage (.405).

Rizzo, 25, made the All-Star team last year, winning MLB.com’s Final Vote,

“I’ve been impressed with the whole body of work,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the first baseman. “He does not give up an at-bat. [He has the] ability to adjust in counts, the ability to hit better pitching, the ability to hit for average and power. Baserunning has really taken to another level this year, he’s done a great job on the bases. I’ve always known he’s a good defender, and I get to see that in person. He’s kind of fearless on defense. He’s a complete baseball player.

“He does everything that needs to be done on the bases, and then get him in the clubhouse and on the bench, and he’s a big part of the moment,” Maddon said. “He’s real loose in the most positive way. He’s smart enough to leave the game here and go home, I like that a lot. He enjoys what he’s doing. That’s why I think it can be sustained for a long period of time. he can get down on himself but he’s able to process that and move along pretty well from what I’ve seen.”

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs lineup: Fowler bats 7th

Dexter Fowler, who is 1-for-15 in his last four games, was dropped from leadoff to seventh in the Cubs’ lineup for Monday’s series opener against the Cardinals. Here’s the lineup:

Coghlan LF

Rizzo1B

Bryant 3B

Montero C

Castro SS

Soler RF

Fowler CF

Lester P

Russell 2B

Monday’s game  marks  the halfway point in the schedule. The Cubs are 44-36 after 80 games; a year ago, they were 34-46 at this point. This season, the Cubs are on pace to win 89 games. Look at some of the stats:

* In 2014, the team ERA was 3.50; this year, it’s 3.32

* In 2014, the team was batting .231 with 70 home runs after 80 games; this year, the Cubs are batting .240 with 75 home runs.

#Cubs, White Sox to honor Ernie, Minnie

The Cubs and White Sox will honor their legends Ernie Banks and Minnie Minoso, both of whom passed away this offseason, when the two teams face each other for the Crosstown Cup Series at Wrigley Field July 10-12 and at U.S. Cellular Field Aug. 14-16.

On Sunday, the Cubs will wear No. 14 throwback uniforms from 1958 in honor of Banks. The White Sox will wear uniforms from the same era. That season, Banks made the All-Star team and earned National League MVP honors after hitting .313 while leading the National League in home runs (47), RBI (129), slugging percentage (.614), games played (154), at-bats (617) and total bases (379).

On Aug. 14, the White Sox will wear throwback uniforms with Minoso’s retired No. 9 from the 1950s, while the Cubs will wear throwback uniforms from the same era.

Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks was a lifelong Cub who played for 19 seasons. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. Banks hit 512 home runs in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.

#Cubs Lester faces Cardinals and Lackey at Wrigley

Former Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and John Lackey square off Monday night at Wrigley Field when the Cubs and Cardinals open a four-game/three-day series. The Cardinals lead the Central and have their best record through 81 games since 1944 when they finished with 105 wins and won a World Series.

Lester and Lackey spent 4 1/2 seasons together in Boston. It’s their first meeting since Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS, when Lackey pitched for the Angels. The Cardinals right-hander has given up three runs over 14 2/3 innings in a pair of starts against the Cubs this season, both of which came at Busch Stadium. Lackey did lose his only career start at Wrigley in his final outing in 2014.

In his last start, Lester gave up five hits over seven shutout innings. He struck out seven and walked one. The lefty has gone eight consecutive starts without a win, matching the longest such streak of his career. He’s 0-4 with a
3.78 ERA since picking up his last win on May 16.

This will be Lester’s first start with Miguel Montero behind the plate instead of David Ross. Ross was placed on the seven-day disabled list with a mild concussion.

The Cubs rotation has a 5.06 ERA against the Cardinals this season compared to a 3.37 mark against all other teams.

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs Minor League report: Torrez solid

Sunday’s games

Donn Roach gave up two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings in Iowa’s 2-0 loss to New Orleans. Kyle Schwarber and Taylor Davis collected the only hits for the I-Cubs. Roach picked up his sixth consecutive quality start.

In his first game with Tennessee, Cael Brockmeyer hit a solo home run but it wasn’t enough as the Smokies lost, 9-4, to Birmingham. Jacob Hannemann had two hits, including a triple.

Daury Torrez threw seven shutout innings in Myrtle Beach’s 12-0 win over Carolina. Torrez struck out six. Victor Caratini had two hits, including a home run, and drove in three runs. Mark Zagunis had three RBI.

South Bend lost, 9-4, to Bowling Green. Jason Vosler had two hits, including a solo home run. Tommy Thorpe gave up four runs over four innings and took the loss.

Eugene shutout Vancouver, 6-0. Justin Marra had two hits, including a home run in the fifth, and drove in three runs. Donnie Dewees had two hits, including a double, and one RBI.

Mesa’s game against the D-Backs was postponed because of rain.

Final #Cubs 2, Marlins 0

Kyle Hendricks finally picked up a win at Wrigley Field, holding the Marlins to five hits over 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the Cubs’ 2-0 win on Sunday. Cubs starting pitchers now have a 1.08 ERA over their last six games, giving up five earned runs over 41 2/3 innings. The team is 5-1 in that stretch — but also batting just .178 (34-for-191).

“We’re definitely going to hit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s always good when you go through these stretches that you’re able to win in spite of it.”

Pitching and defense usually win games.

“You’ve got to pitch,” Maddon said. “The game could’ve been called ‘pitching’ as opposed to baseball.”

He’s also not worried about the lack of offense.

“I know it’s going to show up,” Maddon said.  “As long as you can pull some of this magical stuff out while you’re waiting for the offense to come, I’ll take it.”

Is it tougher for the players to deal with such close games?

“I look at it as more fun,” said Chris Denorfia, who delivered a pinch-hit double and scored an insurance run in the eighth. “To be prepared for the postseason, you’re going to need pressure games like this. The more experience we get with these, the more comfortable you are in those situations.”

* Jason Motte converted his fourth save of the season with a scoreless ninth. He has given up one earned run over his last 20 appearances.

* Sunday was the Cubs’ 11th shutout. They now are 9-27 when out-hit by their opponents. The Marlins totaled five hits; the Cubs had three.

— Carrie Muskat

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