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Cubs Try For First Back-To-Back Wins In Three Weeks Against Cardinals

(Sports Network) - The Chicago Cubs will be aiming to string together consecutive wins for the first time in over three weeks when the struggling club concludes a three-game series with the rival St. Louis Cardinals this afternoon at Busch Stadium.

Chicago put an end to a three-game losing streak and avenged Friday's 6-3 loss to St. Louis by posting a 3-2 victory over the Cardinals yesterday afternoon. Carlos Zambrano threw 5 2/3 effective innings to pick up his first win since June 20, with Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee each hitting solo homers to help support the embattled Cubs pitcher.

Koyie Hill added an RBI double as Chicago scored three times in the first three innings against Cardinals All-Star Chris Carpenter. Zambrano (4-6), making only his second start since returning from a month-long suspension for a well-publicized dugout outburst, made the lead stand by limiting St. Louis to a pair of runs on seven hits.

"Zambrano was much better [Saturday]," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella of his starter, who walked seven batters in five innings in Tuesday's outing at San Francisco. "He had more velocity. He was just a better pitcher [Saturday]."

Three Chicago relievers held the Cardinals scoreless over the final 3 2/3 innings after Zambrano's departure, with Carlos Marmol notching his 20th save of the year by working the final 1 1/3 frames.

Carpenter (13-4) suffered only his fourth loss of 2010 after surrendering the three early runs. The standout righty lasted six innings and gave up six hits without a walk.

"He wasn't as sharp early and [the Cubs] got some runs," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Carpenter. "I think he did a good job."

La Russa was watching Carpenter pitch from afar, as the longtime skipper was finishing serving a two-game suspension as a result of a benches-clearing incident between his team and the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday. He'll be back in the dugout for today's finale.

Saturday's setback snapped a four-game win streak for St. Louis and placed the Cards in a virtual tie with the Reds for first place in the NL Central. Cincinnati won its game against Florida on Saturday.

Chicago, meanwhile, had lost 14 of 16 prior to yesterday's triumph and hasn't won back-to-back contests since defeating the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on July 23 and 24.

Today the Cubs turn to the pitcher responsible for the only two victories during that above-mentioned swoon. Ryan Dempster beat Milwaukee on August 4 after yielding three unearned runs and just three hits over six innings, then followed up with a winning effort at San Francisco this past Tuesday. The veteran right-hander did give up four runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Giants, but only one was earned due to three errors Chicago committed on the night.

Dempster has been one of the more consistent members of a disappointing Cubs rotation, as he's tied for the team lead with 10 wins and has posted a respectable 3.66 ERA in 24 starts. The native Canadian has also struck out 147 batters in 157 1/3 innings of work.

The 33-year-old faced the Cardinals in Wrigley Field back on July 25 and received a no-decision in a 4-3 Chicago loss after allowing three runs in seven innings. For his career, Dempster is 6-7 with a 4.51 ERA over 43 appearances (17 starts) against St. Louis.

He'll be opposed this afternoon by Kyle Lohse, with the Cardinals hurler set to make his first start in the majors in nearly three months. Lohse last pitched for St. Louis on May 22, when he was rocked for six runs in 3 1/3 innings of a home loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The right-hander went on the disabled list immediately afterward for a forearm injury that required surgery.

Lohse has made four rehab starts for Triple-A Memphis in preparation for today's assignment, and showed he's ready to return after putting together an excellent seven-inning stint for the Redbirds on Tuesday. He allowed just one run and three hits while striking out nine batters against Reno that night.

The 31-year-old, who went 1-4 with a 5.89 ERA in nine starts before being shelved, will try to improve upon a 1-3 record and 5.59 ERA over nine career meetings with the Cubs.

These NL Central foes have split eight overall matchups this season, but the Cardinals are 8-3 against the Cubs at Busch Stadium since the start of the 2009 campaign.