LIVE: Cubs trailing Dodgers 9-2 at Wrigley

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LIVE: Cubs trailing Dodgers 9-2 at Wrigley

Friday, April 22, 2011
Posted: 10:04 a.m.
Associated Press

Despite the drama surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp has made a recent habit of dramatic hits in helping them win four of five.

Los Angeles will try to keep rolling as Chad Billingsley looks to build on his best outing of the season in the opener of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Kemp hit his second game-ending home run in five days, a two-run shot in the 12th inning to beat Atlanta 5-3 on Thursday. It marked the second straight victory for the Dodgers (10-10) since commissioner Bud Selig announced Wednesday that Major League Baseball seized control of the team due to the well-publicized divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his wife.

Andre Ethier went 2 for 5 on Thursday, extending his career-best hitting streak to 18 games. Kemp and Either are tied with Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro atop the NL with 30 hits.

"Matty's awesome," said starter Clayton Kershaw, who gave up a two-out, two-run single in the ninth allowing Atlanta to take the lead. "I told him what an incredible job he did and thanks for picking me up.

"In that situation, where both bullpens are getting eaten up, for Matty to pull it out like that with an 0-2 count, it was an awesome at-bat."

Kemp ended Billingsley's last start with a two-run homer in the ninth, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 victory against St. Louis on Sunday. Billingsley (1-1, 4.91 ERA) pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out 11.

He's won his last two starts against the Cubs, allowing six earned runs in 12 1-3 innings. The right-hander is 3-3 with a 3.79 ERA in eight appearances versus Chicago (9-9).

Billingsley will be opposed by Casey Coleman (1-0, 4.22), who is coming off a solid outing of his own.

The right-hander allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings Saturday, beating Colorado 8-3. He's never faced the Dodgers.

Chicago split a doubleheader Wednesday against San Diego, as Reed Johnson homered in the bottom of the 11th for a 2-1 victory in the opener before the Cubs fell 5-4 in the second game.

Manager Mike Quade has been pleased with the play of his club, though he said there's still a long way to go.

"We've got to work some things out and we still have to get better," Quade told the team's official website. "I'm just so pleased with the effort."

Castro, the youngest player in the majors, went 1 for 9 in the doubleheader but is hitting .375 with a team-high 14 runs. He's hit in each of the first three spots in the lineup this season.

"The 1-2-3 hole could be musical chairs depending on who I have in the lineup on a particular day," Quade said. "Other than my cleanup hitter (Aramis Ramirez), everybody's able to adjust and understands if we do make some changes."

However, the Dodgers may pose a problem for Castro as he went 3 for 22 (.136) in six games against them in 2010.

Los Angeles won three of four meetings at home last season, but the Cubs took two of three in Chicago.

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

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”