MIAMI (AP) - The Chicago Cubs squandered too many scoring opportunities Sunday, and missed their chance at a four-game sweep.
Chicago went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and lost 6-4 to the Miami Marlins, who salvaged the final game of the series.
``It's tough to sweep four games,' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ``It just doesn't happen very often.'
The Cubs were going for their first-ever four-game sweep against the Marlins, and their first on the road since August 2011. Instead they lost another close game and finished their three-city trip 4-6.
But as shortstop Starlin Castro noted, winning three out of four from Miami represented improvement for the Cubs, who remain last in the NL Central.
``It's awesome,' Castro said. ``The team got off a little slow, but it's good for us to take this series and feel a little better about things right now.'
Beginning Monday against San Diego, the Cubs play 16 of their next 19 games at home.
Giancarlo Stanton homered twice and drove in four runs for the Marlins. Ricky Nolasco (2-2) gave up three runs in seven innings and retired the final 15 batters he faced.
The Cubs' poor hitting with runners in scoring position persisted. They led 3-2 after their first four batters reached in the third against Nolasco, but didn't score again in the inning.
Chicago's average of .151 with runners in scoring position is the worst in the majors.
``We're out there battling right to the last inning, and you saw that again today,' Sveum said. ``It's just one of those things you have to work through.'
Carlos Villanueva (1-1) allowed four runs in six innings, raising his ERA to 2.29. All 24 Chicago games have been decided by less than five runs, which ties for the second-longest such streak to start a season.
``Nobody has handed our butts to us,' Villanueva said. ``It has been close, and we've been one pitch away or a couple of hits away from winning. So I think you take that, and hopefully the weather keeps warming up, and we keep warming up with it.'
Chicago's Dioner Navarro homered in the ninth off Steve Cishek, who nonetheless earned his third save in four chances.
The Marlins improved to 6-19, still worst in the majors, and 3-10 at home. They benefited from a rare offensive outburst, scoring more than three runs for only the fifth time this season and twice coming from behind.
Stanton led the way, showing further signs he has shaken a prolonged slump to start the season.
``It was just a matter of time,' manager Mike Redmond said. ``This guy is a special player. He's a game-changer.'
Nick Green also hit a homer, and confessed he didn't remember his last one because it came so long ago - in 2009.
Green said the return of Stanton's power stroke gave the rest of the Marlins a boost.
``It's huge for this team,' Green said. ``Everybody expects him to hit a home run or get a guy in every single time, which isn't possible. But having him get his confidence back is the biggest thing to lift our team up.'
Stanton, who led the NL in slugging last year, waited 65 at_bats to hit his first homer Saturday. He hit another in the first inning off Villanueva to put Miami ahead 2-1.
The All-Star right fielder singled home a run and later scored in the sixth. He homered again leading off in the eighth against Kameron Loe and finished 3 for 3 to raise his average to .243.
Stanton had been 0 for 4 with four strikeouts previously against Loe. The multihomer game was his seventh.
``When you see guys hit balls that hard, that's pretty fun to watch,' Redmond said. ``It takes that pressure off everybody. Everybody is, `OK, we can relax now. I don't have to carry the weight of the offense.' When he's going good, we have a chance to do some damage.'
Stanton didn't talk with reporters after the game.
``Even though he was struggling, guys like that are due to break out,' Villanueva said. ``Obviously you don't want it to happen against your team. I made a couple of mistakes on him, and he took advantage.'
Nolasco fell behind 3-2 when he permitted the first four batters to reach in the third inning, then didn't allow another baserunner. He improved to 5-2 against the team that drafted him in 2001.
NOTES: SS Castro made a diving catch of Donovan Solano's liner to end the first inning. ... The Marlins improved to 82-81 against the Cubs. ... Marlins 1B Joe Mahoney sat out and is day to day with a tight right hamstring.
The Associated Press News Service
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