Cubs looking forward to busting July rut

Lester allows three runs over five innings in Chicago's 5th straight loss

Cubs looking forward to busting July rut

PITTSBURGH -- In 2008, when Joe Maddon was the manager of the Rays, the team lost seven straight games at the end of the first half. That year, the Rays got to the World Series.

On Saturday night, Maddon's Cubs lost their fifth in a row, 12-6 to the hard-charging Pirates. Chicago's lead in the National League Central is now 6 1/2 games, its smallest margin since May 31.

"We got off to such a wonderful start," Maddon said. "You'd take this kind of lead going into the break any day of the week. It just happened, and there are reasons why it's happened. You don't lament those reasons, you deal with it, and keep going out and playing hard like we did and eventually we'll get back on a nice streak."

Chicago starter Jon Lester lasted three innings against the Pirates on Saturday. After the starting pitchers combined to post the best ERA in baseball, the Cubs do not have a quality start this month. Lester, who was 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA in June, has served up 13 runs over 4 1/3 innings in his last two starts.

"Terrible," Lester said of his outing. "Unacceptable. Letdown."

Lester's next outing could be Tuesday in San Diego at the All-Star Game.

"We all go through times where, just like hitters, you go through slumps," Lester said. "The last two starts were obviously null and void for me. The offense gives me two runs early and gives me runs again and I give them right back. It's obviously a letdown not only for myself but for the team. We'll be better."

Rodriguez scores on an error

Adam Warren took the loss, giving up seven runs, including four on Josh Bell's first career home run -- a pinch-hit grand slam in the fifth. Warren had started Wednesday, so he wasn't as fresh as he would've liked.

"I thought Adam against that lineup, there was a nice matchup one time through," Maddon said. "It didn't play out that way."

The Cubs have lost nine of their last 10, and the starting pitchers are 1-5 with an 8.18 ERA (43 earned runs over 47 1/3 innings) in that stretch.

"I'll be the first to tell you what we were doing early on was pretty impressive, but just like how we were playing and the pace we were on to win -- what was it 120 games, or whatever -- we all knew that was not realistic," Lester said. "At the same time, we have to be better as a staff and better as a whole.

"It starts with me tonight. I have to be better. The second inning was completely unacceptable. I can deal with solo homers all day, but walks and hit by pitches and stuff like that just can't happen."

If you told the Cubs in Spring Training that they'd have a 6 1/2-game lead at the All-Star break, they'd take it.

"This game isn't easy," said Anthony Rizzo, who went 4-for-5 and was a home run shy of the cycle. "It's impossible to boat race the whole season like we were doing. We just have to clean up our pitching a little.

Rizzo goes 4-for-5

"We're walking too many guys, and that's not the formula. We've had a formula of playing good baseball and we don't have it right now. Maybe we have to mix few cocktails together and figure it out, but that's what it comes down to."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.