LIVE: Castro gets 200th as Cubs face Cardinals

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LIVE: Castro gets 200th as Cubs face Cardinals

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 10:34 a.m.

Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals wasted a golden opportunity to tighten the NL wild- card race after a ninth-inning collapse by their bullpen.

While the Chicago Cubs have little left to play for, they'd love to end their archrivals' playoff aspirations.

The Cardinals open a key three-game series with the Cubs on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

St. Louis led by four going into the ninth Thursday against New York before relievers Jason Motte, Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas combined to allow six runs in a stunning 8-6 loss.

"We're trying to play our way into the playoffs and this is when you push," manager Tony La Russa said.

St. Louis, which committed two errors in the ninth, lost for the third time in 16 games. The Cardinals (86-70) trail wild card-leading Atlanta by two games with six left.

"Don't make a mistake and say we're heartbroken," La Russa pointed out. "Our heart's beating. We won the series, get ready for (Friday)."

St. Louis has won eight of 12 against Chicago this year and the bullpen has been especially strong in six home meetings, posting a 1.56 ERA while allowing nine hits, walking one and striking out 15 in 17 1-3 innings.

Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.66 ERA) will try to give the bullpen a break as he looks to end a long winless stretch at home against the Cubs.

The right-hander is 3-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 10 career starts versus Chicago in St. Louis, but he's 0-2 with a 3.07 ERA in his last four such outings dating to Sept. 20, 2009.

Carpenter pitched well enough to beat the Cubs at Busch Stadium on June 5, allowing two runs over nine innings before St. Louis won 3-2 in 10. He was reached for four runs and a career-worst 13 hits - all singles - in seven innings of a 6-4 victory at Wrigley Field on May 10.

The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner hasn't allowed a run in each of his last two wins. He tossed a four-hitter to defeat Milwaukee 2-0 on Sept. 7 and scattered eight hits over eight innings Sunday in a 5-0 win over Philadelphia.

Slumping Ryan Dempster (10-13, 4.63) will take the ball for the Cubs. The right-hander is 0-5 in his last seven starts.

Dempster has lost each of his last two starts, falling 3-2 to major league-worst Houston on Sunday. He was charged with three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

Dempster is 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts at Busch Stadium this year.

Lance Berkman is 3 for 6 with two homers when facing Dempster this season, while Albert Pujols is 2 for 5 with a homer.

Pujols reached base safely for the 38th straight game Thursday, leaving him one shy of matching Tampa Bay's Johnny Damon for the longest run in the majors this year. Pujols, the NL home run leader, needs three more to reach 40 for the seventh time in 11 seasons.

Chicago (69-87) won for the fourth time in six games after Wednesday's 7-1 rout of the NL Central-leading Brewers.

Starlin Castro went 2 for 3, leaving him one hit shy of becoming the first Cub with 200 in a season since Juan Pierre in 2006. At just 21, he would also be the youngest of 16 players in franchise history to reach the milestone.

"We're all anxious to see it happen," teammate Carlos Pena told the Cubs' official website. "It's a very impressive feat to accomplish."

The second-year shortstop is 5 for 27 (.185) in six games in St. Louis this season but 7 for 18 (.389) when facing Carpenter.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training. 

The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga. 

Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer. 

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below. 

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."