LIVE: LaHair gives Cubs lead with HR

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LIVE: LaHair gives Cubs lead with HR

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 10:30 a.m.

Associated Press

The Houston Astros are one of three teams that have never lost 100 games. Unless they finish their 50th season on a 12-game win streak, they will no longer lay claim to that distinction.

After suffering their 99th loss in the series opener against the Chicago Cubs, the Astros try to avoid reaching the century mark Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Owner of the majors' worst record, Houston (51-99) has already set a franchise record for losses, eclipsing the old mark of 97 set three times, most recently in 1991. A 100th defeat seems inevitable, and that would leave just Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels as the only franchises without a 100-loss season.

Like so many of their defeats before, the Astros' loss to the Cubs (66-85) on Friday was a little disheartening. Houston rallied to tie the score with two outs in the ninth inning only to lose 4-3 in the 12th, when Marlon Byrd drove in Starlin Castro on a slow-roller down the third base line that replays indicated may have been foul.

That's just the kind of luck the Astros have been experiencing lately. Four of their last five losses have been by one run, and three of those defeats have come in the final at-bat.

"They're tough losses, but on the other hand, you have to look at the positives," Carlos Lee said. "We're playing good baseball. We're playing good games."

Lee, in particular, is playing well.

Matt Garza was one strike from finishing a five-hitter Friday when Lee hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot that tied it at 3-all. The slugger has hit safely in 22 of 24 games, batting .383 with seven homers, nine doubles and 18 RBIs.

"I've found a position where I feel real comfortable and I'm seeing the ball real good," he said.

Lee hasn't had much success against scheduled starter Rodrigo Lopez (5-6, 5.04 ERA), batting .167 with no homers in 24 career at-bats, but the matchup could turn in his favor.

Lee's 23 homers at Wrigley are third-most among active opposing players, and Lopez has been susceptible to the long ball lately, serving up 11 home runs in his last five starts.

Four of those homers came against Cincinnati on Monday. The right-hander allowed five other hits and five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-8 victory.

Lopez didn't surrender a homer in his last outing against the Astros on Aug. 15, when he gave up three runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-3 win.

Henry Sosa (2-4, 5.02) opposed Lopez in that game, allowing four runs and seven hits in six innings, and he gets the ball Saturday.

In his seventh career start Sunday against Washington, Sosa was knocked around for five runs and seven hits - including back-to-back-to-back homers to start the third inning. He was only able to get two more outs in an 8-2 loss.

The rookie right-hander was 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his previous three starts.

Geovany Soto doubled twice off Sosa in the last meeting and has fared well against the Astros lately. He hit his 15th homer of the season Friday and is batting .478 with three home runs and seven RBIs in his last five games versus Houston.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."