LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

229706.jpg

LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 10:11 a.m.
Associated Press

Led by MVP candidate Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers are on the verge of clinching their first division title in nearly 30 years.

The slugger has also been instrumental to the Brewers' dominance over the Chicago Cubs.

Braun looks to help NL Central-leading Milwaukee win seven straight over the Cubs for the first time in Monday night's series opener at Wrigley Field.

By sweeping a three-game set in Cincinnati over the weekend, the Brewers (90-63) trimmed their magic number to four with nine games remaining to win their first division title since capturing the AL East in 1982.

"They're playing for something and we're playing for something that's totally different," Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena told his team's official website after Sunday's 3-2 loss to Houston. "They're trying to clinch the division and a playoff berth. We're just trying to win some ballgames and finish up strong."

Milwaukee, which outscored the Reds 24-5, reached the 90-win mark for the first time since winning the NL wild card in 2008. It hasn't posted more victories since finishing with 92 in 1992.

"It's hard to lose when you pitch and hit," slugger Prince Fielder said after Sunday's 8-1 win. "It feels better when you do it on the road. It's not easy to do it on the road. It gives you extra confidence."

The Brewers are a major league-best 17-5 on the road since Aug. 5, although they lost three of four during their last trip to Wrigley from June 13-16.

Milwaukee has outscored the Cubs 23-12 in winning six meetings at Miller Park since. It also won six straight in the series between 2001 and '02.

Braun is batting .524 during the Brewers' winning streak against Chicago, and he's hitting .408 with three home runs, nine doubles and 12 RBIs in 13 games against the Cubs this year.

The four-time All-Star, who is among the league leaders in homers (31), RBIs (103), doubles (36), runs (103), batting average (.336), OPS (.997) and stolen bases (31), is also batting .429 with four homers and eight RBIs during an eight-game overall hitting streak.

While he has hit most Cubs pitchers hard, scheduled starter Casey Coleman (2-8, 7.06 ERA) has gotten it the worst. Braun is 7 for 10 with a homer and two doubles against the right-hander.

Corey Hart, who hit his 25th homer Sunday and is batting .391 in his last six games, has also been a nightmare for Coleman, going 5 for 7 with a home run.

Coleman permitted six runs, six hits and three walks in 3 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday - his fifth straight defeat. He's 0-2 with a 6.20 ERA in four career appearances versus the Brewers.

Milwaukee's Chris Narveson (10-7, 4.40) has fared much better in the series, posting a 2.51 ERA in winning each of his five starts against the Cubs.

Narveson is set to make his first start since yielding six runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sept. 8. The left-hander, who retired all six batters he faced in a relief appearance against Colorado on Wednesday, was 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in his previous six starts, including an outing against Chicago.

Facing the Cubs (67-86) on July 26, Narveson allowed two runs and eight hits in five-plus innings during a 3-2 victory, improving to 3-0 against them this year.

Chicago's Aramis Ramirez is 3 for 17 with two homers lifetime against Narveson.

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

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

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

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

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

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

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."