Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

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Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

ST. LOUIS After Paul Maholm gave up a bomb to Albert Pujols in spring training, he joked that there was a reason why no American League West teams were on his wish list as a free agent.

The Cubs werent in the market for a megadeal last winter. They bought low on guys like Maholm, a veteran left-hander who had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization.

The plan was to collect enough starting pitchers so that the 2012 Cubs could have a chance every night, while Theo Epsteins front office built the infrastructure for a perennial contender.

With Sundays 10-3 loss at Busch Stadium, the Cubs are 3-7 after two turns through the rotation. Pujols wasnt here for the banner raising or ring ceremony over the weekend, part of a power play by the Angels to gain ground in Southern California.

But its clear that the Cardinals are still running like a machine, even with a first-year manager (Mike Matheny) replacing a legend (Tony La Russa).

Maholm didnt have to face Pujols whos 22-for-39 (.564) for his career against the left-hander or World Series heroes Lance Berkman and David Freese, who both sat out on Sunday.

Instead, Maholm watched Yadier Molina hammer a 3-2 pitch 359 feet beyond the wall in left for a three-run homer that made it 6-0 in the third inning. The Cubs dont have the lineup to win those high-scoring games often.

Maholm hit two batters, walked another and gave up six runs in four innings, running his ERA to 13.50.

Yeah, obviously, Id much rather be 2-0 with a zero right now, Maholm said. But thats not how it is. Im going to learn from it.

Its a long season. Im going to get it going. And all these guys in here are busting it and expecting to win and thats how were going to do it.

Or, as manager Dale Sveum said, It wasnt real pretty again.

Maholm will make 4.25 million this season (the Cubs hold an option for 2013). He hasnt won a game since July 10 of last season, when he beat the Cubs (a streak skewed in part because he was shut down with a shoulder issue).

The Cubs took a game on Friday against Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but were outscored 15-4 the next two games in front of sellout crowds.

Its such a great baseball atmosphere, said Cubs utility man Joe Mather, who came up through the Cardinals system. You cant deny that, no matter what team youre on. Even once the games over, you go try to get some food and theres red everywhere.

Coming into St. Louis, where were not fan favorites, its always nice to come in and play close games. I think were probably just a little more disappointed we arent playing as competitive a game as we think we can.

The Cardinals (7-3) didnt have a problem with the back end of the Cubs rotation Maholm or Chris Volstad and they exposed the gap in the National League Central.

We just got to do things a little bit better, Sveum said. We got to make our pitches when we have to and stay away from slugging percentage. We didnt do that too well in this series. Even though they didnt hit a lot of home runs, there were a lot of doubles and triples with guys on base.

Even without Pujols, the World Series champs are going to defend their title.

David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

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David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

David Accam is the Chicago Fire's best player and when he plays the team is better.

While that statement should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Fire on a regular basis this year, it is worth mentioning because of how much time Accam has missed this season.

Accam played a starring role in the team's 4-3 loss in the season opener. He had a goal and an assist. The next match he scored early in Orlando before the Fire were forced to defend while playing down a man due to a red card.

Then he got injured. Accam missed six games and the Fire scored four goals in those matches without him. After making two abbreviated appearances during the team's recent road trip, he was unable to play last week at home due to a suspension.

“It’s difficult for me because I’ve been through a lot in the last two months," Accam said. "For me I’m just happy to be on the pitch now and playing. It will take some time for me to get into match fitness and start going, but I’m happy with my performance today.”

Accam scored in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Portland. It was his first start at home since his barnstorming season debut back on March 6. It was also his first 90-minute outing since March 11.

Kennedy Igboananike assisted on the goal. The partnership in the attack between Igboananike and Accam is one the Fire needs to become a fine-tuned weapon for the team to have a successful season.

“I think what we are looking for is to have associations in the team and the two of them work very good together," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We could see that in the first game when David was fit, also in the second game until we had the (red card). Since then David was injured, but David is very important. Not only because of his individual qualities, but he improves our team in how our team feels better on the field and offensively with more potential."

Accam had five shots, two on goal, and Igboananike had four shots, three on goal. Accam thinks the team is starting to improve its on-field chemistry.

“I think so, especially in the front three," the Ghanaian said. "We are creating chances. Last week we created a lot of chances and today, too.

“In the last two games we started to feel the way we wanted to play and for me it’s been much better. We conceded one goal in the last three games and we created I think more than five clear chances so for me it’s getting better.”

Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

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Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

Getting a second goal is becoming a thing for the Chicago Fire.

A thing they aren't getting.

The Fire pushed for a go-ahead second goal against Portland on Saturday, but it never came. The team's inability to find a second goal, something the team hasn't scored since the season opener, meant they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against the Timbers.

In a lot of ways, the Fire played better. They outshot Portland 17-8, 6-2 in shots on target, and in the second half had rare extended stretches of possession. But they were still not able to break a halftime deadlock.

"It was just that we didn’t score that second goal, which was very important for us," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We are building the momentum. We were close to winning this game today and we are happy with the performance.”

The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) are now 2-2-3 in seven home matches.

Portland (4-6-4, 16 points) took the lead in the 18th minute when Diego Valeri took advantage of a poor Rodrigo Ramos clearance. Ramos' ball got caught up in the wind and stayed near the box. Valeri won the ball back and beat Sean Johnson from a tight angle, sliding a shot just inside the far post.

Almost immediately the Fire leveled the match through David Accam. Accam, making his first home start since the season opener, redirected a Kennedy Igboananike centering pass to tie things back up.

“I know when he goes wide I need to be in the box," Accam said. "I know he has a good left foot also to put that ball in the box so I was in the right position when the ball came in.”

It was Accam's third goal of the season and his first since March 11. Accam and Igboananike created most of the dangerous chances for the Fire, linking up regularly other than the goal.

Another forward who could have joined the attack, Gilberto, was out for personal reasons. The Brazilian had played his best of the year last week.

The Fire had a strong wind at their backs in the second half and used it to keep the ball in Portland's half and extend the lead in shots they took into halftime. Despite being unable to get the win at home, multiple players claimed they are seeing progress in the team's performances.

"I think we’re finally putting full 90s together as a team," midfielder Matt Polster said. "I think during the beginning of the season we were getting used to each other. I think we put in good 65, 70 minutes of a game. As we’re growing as a team now I think we’re putting a full 90 together.”

Now the Fire go on break for the Copa America. The team will not train next week other than a fitness plan given to the players. The next match will be in the US Open Cup on June 15 with both location and opponent to be determined on June 1.

The next MLS match is June 18 at Philadelphia and the next MLS home match will be July 1 against San Jose.

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

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Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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