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L.A. consequential: Kershaw next as Cubs try to avoid scoreless series

LOS ANGELES — So much for all the happy talk, good baseball vibes and “Anchorman” humor as the Cubs headed west from a strong homestand.

Two games after arriving in Hollywood, the Cubs again began to look like character actors in a larger National League picture — shut out twice by the top pitching staff in the majors.

A two-pitch sequence in the fifth inning of a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday underscored the kind of margin for error the Cubs are working with this series — Cubs starter John Lackey walking the pitcher leading off the inning, followed by a first-pitch homer to left by Chris Taylor to extend a one-run lead.

“It’s tough,” said veteran Ben Zobrist, who was scratched from the lineup with a sore wrist. “We just haven’t strung together enough quality at-bats to score runs the last two games. It’s not just because of us. They’ve pitched well. Their pitchers are pretty hot.

It didn't matter how many baseballs the Cubs used against the Dodgers Friday or Saturday after failing to score in either game. John Lackey (right) gave up a four-run fifth in a 5-0 loss Saturday.

“The task doesn’t get any easier tomorrow with Kershaw.”

That would be Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, going for the sweep Sunday against the Cubs’ Jon Lester.

Saturday marked the fourth time in the last six games at Dodger Stadium — including playoffs — the Cubs have been shut out. Kershaw started none of those games.

“They’ve really pitched well against us,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They’ve had a nice game plan, and it’s up to us to make the adjustment. That’s it. We haven’t played badly. We just haven’t hit the ball. And they’ve got timely hits when they’ve needed it.”

Maddon has talked many times this season about the “different path” the Cubs inevitably faced to the postseason after last year’s championship, offseason celebrations and high-profile spring training that created an emotional gauntlet.

The Dodgers are only one of several good teams in the league that targeted the Cubs in their 2017 plans. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Friday said he thought the Cubs last year were the best team in baseball but “this year I feel we’re the better team.”

“It’s always tougher the second time,” said Zobrist, the World Series MVP, “because everybody’s gunning for you, and your expectations are even higher than they were before.

“But this team is definitely equal to the task. …  We’ll be fine as long as we just get back to executing.”

This and that

Zobrist hurt his left wrist swinging hard at a pitch in Friday’s first inning, played through it the rest of the game but woke up with enough discomfort that he was unavailable even off the bench Saturday. He’s expected to be a game-time decision Sunday. “I just hope that it goes away quickly,” said Zobrist, whose injury was not deemed severe enough to warrant an MRI exam.

 With Zobrist out, rookie Ian Happ got his first start at second base since debuting two weeks ago. He had played a lot of second base in the minors since being drafted ninth overall in 2015. “I’ve been prepared for it since I got here,” said Happ, who also has started in all three outfield spots.

Lackey got in a strange-looking encounter with home-plate umpire Tripp Gibson after being called out on a ball clearly in the strike zone leading off the third. “He called a strike, and I was kind of like laughing,” Lackey said. “He was like, ‘You can laugh all you want.’ He started something with me. So I had a problem with that. I was walking off minding my own business.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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