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Cubs drop 4th in a row; Chris Volstad’s winless streak at 21

Matt Kemp’s two-run home run fourth inning went off center fielder Joe Mather’s glove. | Reed Saxon~AP

Matt Kemp’s two-run home run in the fourth inning went off center fielder Joe Mather’s glove. | Reed Saxon~AP

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:38AM

LOS ANGELES — No sign of the team shrink so far on this Cubs trip to the place where bad habits get called addictions and psychotherapists get called for bad vibes.

But before the game, a man in a white coat lurked in the Cubs’ clubhouse.

Turns out it was only the clubhouse barber. But nobody who has been around this team could be blamed for thinking the Cubs might be flirting with higher stakes on their psychological meters after all that good pitching during a torrid five months went up in the smoke of the trade deadline.

By the time they got to Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the Cubs had been outscored 19-5 in three one-sided losses since the top 40 percent of their starting rotation was traded away.

And stepping into that void Saturday night: a guy who hasn’t won a big-league game in more than a year, Chris Volstad, facing the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw.

Forget the white coats. Get the straitjackets ready.

‘‘The bottom line is you certainly better hope you’re not having a lull because of a trade,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘People are still being evaluated. It’s time to take advantage of certain things, as well.’’

Sveum might as well have been talking specifically about Volstad, who admitted to getting in his own way mentally this season — before cutting loose in his best performance as a Cub.

The Cubs still haven’t won a game that Volstad has started, but his seven-inning duel with Kershaw in a 3-1 loss was a glimpse of what they hope to see after committing a rotation spot to him for the rest of the season.

‘‘That’s as good as we’ve seen,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘There’s plenty of time to prove that what we saw in spring training is the type of guy he is.’’

Volstad, who’s 0-13 (5.49 ERA) since his last win July 10 of last season, said he has quit looking over his shoulder after two demotions to the minor leagues and tried to think less and pitch more.

‘‘I feel like this has been a year of the biggest strides for me personally,’’ said Volstad, whose winless streak reached 21 games. ‘‘It’s been a tough year, for sure. But making it through something like that is obviously going to help me in the future.’’

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still yearn for that remarkably elusive win. Even Saturday, it took only two batters into the bottom of the fourth to lose a 1-0 lead he had just been given — a single and Matt Kemp’s homer off the tip of leaping center fielder Joe Mather’s glove quickly erasing it.

Even though he says the streak doesn’t wear on him like it did earlier this season, as Sveum says, ‘‘It’s not not in his head.’’

‘‘I would say going out during the game, no,’’ Volstad said. ‘‘Once the game starts, it’s just kind of baseball. But off the field, maybe before games, stuff like that, you might think about it some. It’s hard not to. It’s pretty apparent. It’s a pretty long streak.’’

And he’ll take it home with him for his next start Thursday against the Reds.

‘‘Now I just go out there and throw pitches and try not to think too much,’’ Volstad said. ‘‘That’s what gets you in trouble. I tend to think a lot. And my mind gets in my own way. I’m trying to simplify.’’

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