Chicago Fire

Maholm struggles as Diamondbacks outslug Cubs

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Maholm struggles as Diamondbacks outslug Cubs

By Jose M. Romero
CSNChicago.com Contributor

PHOENIX Paul Maholm had yet to pitch past seven innings this season, and had yet to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in five previous career starts against them.

He got help from his defense and even helped himself with a two-run home run, but was undone by a big inning as Maholm and the Cubs dropped the second game of their three-game set with the D-backs, 10-5 Saturday night at Chase Field.

It got away from Maholm quickly in the fourth as the Diamondbacks batted around. Arizona scored six runs on four singles, a triple and an error. Jason Kubel, one of the hottest hitters in the majors this month, raised his National League-best June RBI total to 22 with a two-run base hit.

Maholm (4-6) left after getting only one out in the inning. He came into the fourth with a 2-1 lead and left having allowed six earned runs (seven total) on nine hits in 3 13 innings.

Maholms home run, the first homer for a Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano did it against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 6 of last year, came in the fourth inning. Up until the bottom of the inning, the Cubs had shined in the field.

In the second inning, second baseman Adrian Cardenas hustled from his position and raced between two teammates to flag down a shallow popup near foul territory in right field. The play was important because the D-backs loaded the bases afterward, and Alfonso Soriano secured the third out by diving to catch a sinking line drive from Aaron Hill.

But an error by third baseman Luis Valbuena in the fourth helped open the floodgates for the Diamondbacks. And as it turned out, they needed a lot of those runs, because the Cubs battled back.

Steve Clevenger doubled into the gap in right-center field to drive in Soriano and Geovany Soto and cut the Arizona lead to 7-4. That was all for Diamondbacks ace Ian Kennedy, who equaled his shortest outing of the season, 4 13 innings, and was charged with five runs after pinch-hitter Jeff Baker singled in Clevenger with two out.

David DeJesus and Starlin Castro both went 4-for-5 to tie career highs in hits in a game for the 10th and eighth time, respectively, and Cardenas added two hits. But the Cubs (24-47) came up short for the third straight game despite collecting 14 hits as a team.

Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt hit solo home runs for the Diamondbacks, who climbed above .500 (36-35) for the first time since May 4, when they were 14-13 at the end of that day.

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

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Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

On this edition of Nerds in Sports, we talk with io9.com senior editor Rob Bricken.

Rob explains how he juggles being a fan with being a ‘professional’ nerd, how he came to run io9.com, plus his theory on why Rey’s parents are in Star Wars may shock you.

Kevin Anderson and Michael Piff co-host. We are Nerds. In sports.

Listen to the Nerds in Sports Podcast here.