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STL@ARI: Westbrook fans eight over seven scoreless

While their win-loss records might suggest otherwise, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster has pitched as well, if not better, than the Cardinals' Jake Westbrook this season.

Yet when the two square off Monday night in the opener of a two-game set at Busch Stadium, it will be Dempster looking to pick up his first victory of 2012, while Westbrook attempts to notch victory No. 5.

With not much coming in the way of run support, Dempster has no-decisions in each of his last three outings despite allowing just one combined earned run during that 21-inning span. For the season, he's allowed just four earned runs in five outings, for a 1.02 ERA.

Picking up that elusive first victory certainly won't come easy against the National League Central-leading Cardinals, but manager Dale Sveum is hoping Dempster can continue his mastery of opposing hitters against a powerful lineup.

"Obviously, they're the best team in the league, so we're going to have to shut them down," Sveum said. "They've got an American League offense right now. [Carlos] Beltran is on fire. They've penciled [Allen] Craig in from the DL and he's hit [five] home runs. You really have to keep those guys in the ballpark and it's tough to keep them down."

As for Westbrook, he's been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Cards' offensive prowess. Entering Monday, Westbrook ranks fourth in the NL with 8.56 runs of support -- a far cry from Dempster's 2.04 mark that places him last among qualified NL pitchers.

Westbrook has been adept at taking care of business on his end, turning in quality starts in five of his outings. The right-hander is coming off his best start when he tossed seven shutout innings Tuesday against the D-backs. As has been the case for much of the year, his teammates staked him to a 6-0 lead in the first two innings.

"It lets you settle down and go after guys and be more aggressive, which is what I'm trying to do anyways," Westbrook said of the plentiful run support. "Hopefully we can continue that trend."

Cubs: No save chances since Marmol went on DL
On Sunday, the Cubs were just three outs away from finding themselves in their first save situation since placing Carlos Marmol on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. In the top half of the ninth, though, their offense erupted, turning the game into an 8-2 rout and squashing the potential save opportunity.

When the situation does arise, Sveum is confident he still has the weapons in James Russell and rookie Rafael Dolis to shut the door on close games. Russell has a 0.63 ERA in 15 appearances this season, while Dolis has already converted three saves and sports a 3.38 ERA in 17 appearances.

"We talked about it in Spring Training -- was Dolis going to be able to handle the seventh, eighth, ninth inning with the lead, and he has," Sveum said. "He's thrown strikes and been able to get back in counts with strikes after he's thrown a couple balls. He's proven he can do it. When guys prove they can do it, you have to use them and give them that confidence, too."

Cardinals: Berkman returns, notches hit
First baseman Lance Berkman was in the lineup Sunday for the first time since landing on the disabled list because of a left calf strain on April 19.

Berkman went 1-for-5 with a single in his return from the 21-game absence. Including his eight starts before the injury, Berkman is hitting .321 (9-for-28) for the season. More importantly, perhaps, the Cardinals are 6-2 with Berkman in the lineup and 14-12 without him.

Worth noting
• The Cardinals were swept over the weekend for the first time since the Dodgers took all three meetings from Aug. 22-24 last season.

• St. Louis' Skip Schumaker has 20 hits in 48 career at-bats against Dempster. Schmaker's .417 average against the right-hander is his highest against any pitcher whom he's faced 20 or more times. Comments