Chicago Cubs

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.

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio?

After Lester's early exit from Thursday's game against the Cincinnati Reds, cameras caught the Cubs southpaw appearing to have a confrontation in the home dugout with Bosio, the team's pitching coach.

CSN's David Kaplan did some investigating and said Friday on his morning radio show on ESPN 1000 that Lester was expressing frustration with the Cubs defense. It was not directed to Bosio.

The Cubs were trailing 8-0 in the second inning when Lester left the game with left lat tightness. The Reds eventually tacked on another run to make it 9-0. It was a frustrating inning — to say the least — for the Cubs, who eventually erased the nine-run deficit but failed to complete the comeback in a 13-10 loss.

Kaplan also said an update on Lester should come some time Friday morning, but he isn't expected to miss a serious amount of time. He will likely land on the disabled list, though.

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

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USA TODAY

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

Javier Baez flicked his bat and watched the ball rocket in the direction of Waveland Avenue, the last of the back-to-back-to-back homers against Cincinnati Reds starter/Cubs trivia answer Scott Feldman.

That quick strike came during a four-homer fourth inning on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the offense looked explosive and the pitching looked combustible in a 13-10 loss that left the Milwaukee Brewers one game out of first place, the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them and the Cubs awaiting a diagnosis on Jon Lester’s lat injury.

“I know the talent we got,” Baez said. “When they come to play a team like us, we know they’re going to come play hard and obviously play good baseball. They’re going to come to compete, and that’s what we got to do.”

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs are 2-2 so far during a 13-game stretch against last-place teams – you know Baez will be in the middle of the action as the No. 8 hitter with 19 homers this season and a power source with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) injured.

This is the starting shortstop until Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) comes off the disabled list and the unique talent you couldn’t take your eyes off during last year’s playoffs.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So I don’t care how big or small the game is, he’s going to play the same way. He’s going to do everything pretty much full gorilla all the time.

“Sometimes, he’s going to make a mistake. And that’s OK, because with certain people – with all of us – you got to take the bad with the good. Everybody wants perfection. He’s going to make some mistakes. But most of the time, he’s going to pull off events.”

The night before against the Reds, Baez led off the ninth inning with a line-drive double and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. Last week, Statcast clocked him at 16.11 seconds for his inside-the-park homer off the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Over the weekend, he launched another home-run ball 463 feet against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

There are so many different ways Baez can help the Cubs win a game at a time when they don’t have anywhere close to the same margin for error that they did during last season’s joyride into the playoffs.

“I know we often talk about the strikeouts or the big swings,” Maddon said. “But look at his two-strike numbers. Look at his OPS (.808). Look at the run production in general (his 55 RBI match Kris Bryant). It’s been outstanding. And you combine that with first-rate defense.

“Now he’s going to make some mistakes. I’ve talked about that. That’s going to go away with just experience. As he gets older, plays more often, he’s going to make less of those routine mistakes. And the game’s going to get really clean and sharp.”

Until then, Baez will keep taking huge swings, making spectacular plays and trying to cut down on the errors (10 in 334 innings at shortstop, or one less than Russell through 729 innings), because he knows what he means to this team.  

“Javy’s very important,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our most athletic players on the team.

“Javy’s got a really big swing, but he’s got a great eye and he handles the bat really well. For as big as his swing is, he still manages to make really good contact. I don’t want him to approach the game any other way than he does right now.”