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Barney makes a diving stop to end the third

CHICAGO -- There certainly were chances for the Cubs to score.

Chicago stranded 15 baserunners, leaving the bases loaded twice, in falling to the Braves, 3-0, at Wrigley Field on Monday night.

With the Cubs' lone All-Star, Starlin Castro, benched for what manager Mike Quade called a "mental health day" after ESPN camera crews caught him with his back to the plate during a pitch by James Russell in Sunday night's game, the team played just as one would expect in the absence of its most prolific hitter this season.

They didn't score a run and went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

"[We had] plenty of opportunities, we were just looking for the big hit," manager Mike Quade said. "It's always good if you can do some damage early, and we couldn't. We created plenty of opportunities -- that's for sure."

The Cubs had an opportunity to score some runs in the first after two walks around a single by Aramis Ramirez -- who extended his hitting streak to 11 games -- loaded the bases with one out. Marlon Byrd promptly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and the Cubs' first scoring threat.

Braves starter Jair Jurrjens (13-5) pointed to that first inning as a pivotal point in picking up his 13th win of the season.

"I just wanted to get out of that [first] inning to build my confidence," he said. "I think my confidence was down."

The Cubs missed out on another scoring chance when three-straight two-out singles loaded the bases in the fifth. But Alfonso Soriano popped out to shallow right field, leaving all three runners stranded.

"I think that's the key why we lost the game tonight," Soriano said. "We left guys in scoring position and we never got that big hit tonight."

Wasted in the loss was starter Ryan Dempster's 16th quality start of the season, in which he threw six innings, allowed six hits and three walks, and struck out eight.

Dempster (10-9) struck out Dan Uggla to lead off the second, but Freddie Freeman made him pay when he smacked the first pitch he saw into the left-field bleachers -- his 18th long ball of the season.

Uggla also hit his 30th home run of the season in the sixth -- a solo shot -- onto Waveland Ave. and put the Braves ahead, 3-0.

The Braves' second baseman paid a little respect to Darwin Barney, who helped end Uggla's long hitting streak recently in Atlanta and who started at shortstop in place of Castro.

"I guess that's where I've got to hit them against this team," Uggla said. "If I keep in the park, [Darwin] Barney is going to catch it and get me out somewhere. You've got to hit it where they can't catch them."

The loss came on the one-year anniversary of former manager Lou Piniella's midseason retirement, ultimately leaving the manager job to Quade.

Soriano stuck up for his manager, whose status for next season has come into question after former general manager Jim Hendry's firing, saying: "When the team is not doing good, they always blame somebody. Sometimes they blame the manager and sometimes they blame the GM, but they never blame the players. That's the game. If we're doing good, everyone feels that [Quade's] doing a very good job."

For now, all Quade can focus on is managing his team today. The first question he has to answer: Will Castro return to the starting lineup Tuesday?

"I haven't even thought about that," Quade said. "I'm still thinking about this game. I'll sleep on it and see how I feel tomorrow." Comments