LIVE: Wells, Cubs trailing Brewers early on CSN

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LIVE: Wells, Cubs trailing Brewers early on CSN

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011
Posted: 9:05 a.m.

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(AP) -- The Milwaukee Brewers are trying to get closer to an NL Central title, but they'll need to end some recent struggles at Wrigley Field.

Shaun Marcum has his own rough stretch to overcome.

Marcum will try to avoid losing a third consecutive start for the first time in his career Tuesday night as the Brewers look to regain some momentum in the middle game of their series with the Chicago Cubs.

Milwaukee (90-64) leads the Central by 5 12 games on second-place St. Louis with eight games remaining, giving the club a magic number of four to clinch its first division title since winning the AL East in 1982.

The Brewers failed to reduce their magic number Monday, falling 5-2 to the Cubs (68-86) to lose for the fourth time in their last five games at Wrigley.

"You're still just trying to take it game by game," said Chris Narveson, who started and took the loss in the series opener. "Magic numbers don't mean anything until you clinch."

Marcum (12-7, 3.40 ERA) will make his third attempt at matching his career-best win total from last year with Toronto. He's won just one of his last five starts, losing the last two while surrendering 11 runs and 17 hits, including three homers, in 11 2-3 innings.

The right-hander allowed six runs and two of the homers in five innings of a 6-2 loss to Colorado on Wednesday.

Marcum has never lost three straight starts in his career, but did suffer three consecutive defeats over four outings as a rookie with the Blue Jays in 2006.

He was solid in his only career meeting with the Cubs on July 28, giving up two runs in six innings of a 4-2 home victory.

Ryan Braun is trying to rebound from his 0-for-4 effort Monday. He's a .374 lifetime hitter at Wrigley Field, and is 10 for 24 with two doubles and a homer off Randy Wells, Tuesday's scheduled starter for Chicago.

Braun is making a bid to become the first Brewer to win the NL batting crown, hitting .333 to rank just ahead of New York's Jose Reyes at .331.

The Cubs have won six of eight at home after ending a six-game losing streak to Milwaukee in the opener of this series.

Geovany Soto connected for a pair of two-run homers Monday and finished with three hits and five RBIs Monday. He has three career multi-homer games - all against the Brewers.

Soto's 15 homers and 37 RBIs versus Milwaukee are his highest totals against any opponent.

"I heard about that, but I think it's maybe because we play against them so much," he said. "I got a lot of opportunities against the division."

Starlin Castro singled Monday, increasing his league-leading hit total to 196. The 21-year-old shortstop is trying to become the youngest Cub to reach 200 in a season and the first of any age since Juan Pierre had 204 hits in 2006. Castro is also attempting to reach base safely for a 33rd straight game, which would be the longest such streak for Chicago since Jerome Walton had a 43-game run July 21-Sept. 4, 1989.

Wells (7-4, 4.93) is 5-0 with a 3.57 ERA in his last nine starts, but his last loss was a 4-2 defeat at Milwaukee on July 27, when he allowed four runs over six innings.

The right-hander turned in a subpar outing Thursday, surrendering five runs and seven hits - two homers - in 4 1-3 innings but not getting a decision in the Cubs' 8-6, 11-inning loss at Cincinnati.

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

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."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.