LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

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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.

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Matt Szczur or Tommy La Stella on the Cubs Opening Day roster?

How about both?

Theo Epstein said Wednesday morning the Cubs plan to keep both Szczur and La Stella on the Opening Day 25-man roster with relief pitcher Brian Duensing headed to the disabled list.

Duensing, 34, has been hampered by a back issue this spring.

Szczur is out of minor-league options, meaning the Cubs would have had to either keep him on the 25-man roster or place him on waivers, which would almost assuredly mean they'd lose him to another team.

La Stella has options left and already told manager Joe Maddon this spring he would head down to the minors if asked (something La Stella was unwilling to do in August last year when he refused assignment).

The move makes the most sense for the Cubs, as the need for eight relief pitchers is not as imperative in April when the team has five off-days in the first month of the season.

Of course, the Cubs still have four days left of exhibition action, but assuming nothing else changes, here's how the Cubs roster will look Opening Night in St. Louis Sunday:

Catchers

Willson Contreras
Miguel Montero

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo
Ben Zobrist
Javy Baez
Addison Russell
Kris Bryant
Tommy La Stella

Outfielders

Jason Heyward
Albert Almora
Jon Jay
Kyle Schwarber
Matt Szczur

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Jake Arrieta
John Lackey
Brett Anderson
Kyle Hendricks

Relief pitchers

Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Koji Uehara
Wade Davis

The Cubs figure to eventually make room for Duensing on the roster as the bullpen could use another left-handed pitcher, but those decisions often take care of themselves with either health problems or trade options, etc.

Remember, there is a 10-day disabled list this year in the MLB, so placing a guy on the DL doesn't guarantee losing him for more than two weeks anymore.

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."