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Close losses pile up for slow-starting Cubs

Ryan Dempster limited Brewers five hits two earned runs 6 2/3 innings. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Ryan Dempster limited the Brewers to five hits and two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 13, 2012 10:33AM

Six games into the season, John Grisham in the house and Cub fans already sensing a time to kill.

Sensing a serious buzz kill anyway.

Another late-inning lead, another low-scoring loss, another lost series, another meat grinder on the schedule tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and the next — another 156 games of it left.

As Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said after a long pause before his postgame media briefing:

“Well, that sucks.’’

He was obviously referring to the pitcher’s duel he lost 2-1 to Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo on George Kottaras’ seventh-inning home run Wednesday afternoon.

He might as well have been talking about the six-game start to this new era of Cub baseball, which has produced one win despite leads in five of the six games — including four games with leads in the seventh or later.

The last time the Cubs had a six-game start this bad was the middle of the Ed Lynch era, in 1997, when they lost their first 14 games on the way to a 68-94, last-place season.

“It’s so early in the year still,’’ said catcher Geo Soto, who homered in Tuesday’s ninth inning but couldn’t get a bunt down with two on in the seventh Wednesday before striking out. “Obviously, we’ve had tough games here in the beginning of the season, but it’s nothing to put out heads down about. We’ve still got a long way to go.’’

Not that anybody from the outside expected great things from a team that lost its top two run producers, depleted its bullpen with trades and role changes, and acknowledged a near-term priority of renovating the organization from the ground up.

Not that anybody expected 1-5, either, especially after getting exceptional starts in four of those games.

Dempster (0-1) has pitched well enough to win both of his starts — pitching 141/3 combined innings, allowing seven hits, striking out 15 and pitching with the lead in all but one-third of those innings. But getting one run of support in each — with his bullpen adding a blown save.

“He pitched great,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. “He pitched awesome.’’

At the other end of things for the Cubs is a lineup that Sveum already figured would need to “fight and scratch’’ for runs, and that has come up a run short three times already.

Nobody epitomizes that more than veteran Marlon Byrd, who’s in the midst of his worst start as a Cub — an opening funk so deep that Sveum made a move in the sixth game that nobody around this team last year could imagine his predecessor making, maybe either of the last two managers.

He sat the 34-year-old former All-Star with two out in the ninth and nobody on, in favor of lefty hitting rookie Steve Clevenger — who delivered a double off closer John Axford that breathed a last gasp into the Cubs’ effort before Reed Johnson struck out to end it.

“If Marlon’s swinging the bat well, I probably don’t make that move,’’ Sveum said. “Just at the time, we’ve got to get Marlon swinging the bat a little bit better, and I just felt our chances of getting somebody on there [were better], and with the way the wind was blowing, Clevenger could pull the ball and tie the game up, too.’’

Byrd, whose 0-for-3 Wednesday made him 1-for-21 hasn’t had a hit since a line single in his second at-bat on Opening Day. Since then he’s gone 21 plate appearances with only two balls hit out of the infield.

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