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Cubs’ starting pitching key to turnaround

DarwBarney tags out Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes who was trying steal second first ­inning Thursday. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Darwin Barney tags out Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes, who was trying to steal second in the first ­inning Thursday. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Cubs at Cardinals

The facts: 7:15, Ch. 9, 720-AM.

The starters: Ryan Dempster (5-3, 1.86 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (9-2, 2.80).

The rest of the series

Saturday: 6:15 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Matt Garza (5-7, 4.02) vs. Jake Westbrook (7-8, 3.82).

Sunday: 1:15 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Travis Wood (4-4, 3.92) vs. Lance Lynn (11-4, 3.27).

Updated: August 21, 2012 6:37AM

Since June 25, the Cubs have the best record in baseball at 14-5. It’s the most unlikely story in the game because the team was on pace a month ago to lose 100 games.

‘‘The Cubs have been playing pretty good baseball the last couple of weeks, and we were another victim,’’ Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said Thursday after his team’s 4-2 loss.

The Cubs took the three-game series by beating longtime nemesis Mark Buehrle (9-9), who had a personal four-game winning streak going and hadn’t lost to the Cubs since June 22, 2007.

‘‘I couldn’t throw the changeup for a strike,’’ said Buehrle, who threw five innings and gave up four runs, including Alfonso Soriano’s 18th home run.

All four runs came in the fifth ­inning, starting with Soriano’s homer and including singles from Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney and Reed Johnson and a walk to ­Geovany Soto.

‘‘Everything Buehrle threw was up that inning,’’ Guillen said.

Cubs left-hander Paul Maholm (8-6) extended his own winning streak to four with another eight-inning gem. He allowed one run and five hits.

His outing lowered the starters’ ERA to 2.54 in the last eight games, and the bullpen’s ERA is 1.83 during the stretch.

‘‘Starting pitching,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of the Cubs’ turnaround. ‘‘When starting pitchers are giving up one or none for six or seven innings and the back end of the bullpen is doing its job, that’s going to lead to a lot of wins.’’

The mood of the team has improved, too.

‘‘Where are we now in the wild card?’’ Baker said. ‘‘Obviously there are [trade] rumors, but we joke around in here that we’re going to start adding pieces.’’

Theo on Line 1

Mayor Rahm Emanuel still isn’t taking calls from Cubs ownership.

But team president Theo Epstein, who has met Emanuel once, said he and his operations staff are willing to help restart the efforts to get city money to help pay for Wrigley Field renovations. The process has been derailed by Joe Ricketts’ link to a racially tinged proposed political attack against President Barack Obama.

‘‘It’s not what I do on a day-to-day basis, but we sit in meetings and talk about it,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘Obviously, it’s of fundamental importance to the organization and affects some of our baseball plans. So any of us are willing to give our best effort to make it happen.’’

Sveum on Soler

Touted Cuban free agent Jorge Soler, 20, was to debut with the Cubs’ rookie-level team in Arizona on Thursday as the designated hitter and will be in the outfield on Friday. And Sveum is ready.

‘‘I’ll be looking in the morning at the box scores and looking at the manager’s reports and seeing how he swings the bat and plays the outfield,’’ said Sveum, who has seen only scant video of Soler as an amateur.

‘‘He has a pretty impressive swing and strength and body type that should play out in the big leagues.’’

Lost opportunity

That insurance commercial showing Kerry Wood pulling lost items out of the ivy at Wrigley before discovering Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson is one of the best Cubs-related commercials of at least the last five years.

But it might have been even better if Dawson’s idea for an ending had been accepted by the producers.

In that version, Dawson said, he would’ve asked Wood upon emerging from the vines: ‘‘What year is it?’’

Wood: ‘‘2012.’’

Dawson: ‘‘Have the Cubs won it yet?’’

Wood: ‘‘Uh, no.’’

At which point, Dawson would crawl back into the ivy.

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