The Chicago Cubs hope a return home can help rejuvenate their bats and put an end to their longest losing streak in over three years. A three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates could also help.
The Cubs have won eight of their last 10 at Wrigley Field, hitting .270 with 15 homers and 59 runs during that stretch.
They’ve also won 11 of the last 14 home matchups against the Pirates behind a .318 average and 26 homers. Chicago went 14-4 overall against its Central rivals last season.
Ryan Dempster (3-3, 4.40 ERA) is hoping the offense can solve its slump after he allowed two runs and six hits over seven innings in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at St. Louis.
The right-hander has won more home games than anyone in baseball since being moved to the rotation at the start of last season, posting a 16-3 mark with a 2.96 ERA in 23 starts. That span also includes a 1-0 record and 2.25 ERA in two games against Pittsburgh.
The Pirates are playing a second consecutive series in Chicago after avoiding a three-game sweep to the White Sox with Sunday’s 4-3 victory.
Pittsburgh will give the ball to Paul Maholm (3-1, 3.30), who is 0-1 with a 4.40 ERA in his last five outings while receiving only 11 total runs of support.
The left-hander didn’t get much help or a decision Wednesday as he labored through 114 pitches over six innings, allowing one run and four hits with seven strikeouts in a 2-1 loss at Washington.
Maholm is 4-1 with a 6.32 ERA in eight career starts against the Cubs. He’s been hit hard in his last two starts at Wrigley, giving up 12 runs and 18 hits in eight innings.
Manager Lou Piniella has tried everything. On Sunday, he held a team meeting.
Instead of railing at his team, Piniella told his struggling hitters to “relax” so that they could regain their confidence.
The Cubs entered the game, a 7-2 loss at San Diego, having scored just three runs on the first five games of this six-game trip. Their hitters were 26-for-157 (.166) with one homer and four doubles. The speech didn’t help as the Cubs stretched their current losing streak to seven games.
In addition to pressing, Piniella saw the problem as a simple one of Cubs’ hitters taking strikes and swinging at pitches out of the zone.
Piniella lamented the fact that too many players have on-base percentages that should be their batting averages. The biggest culprits on the trip were Milton Bradley, Mike Fontenot, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot. Especially worrisome is Theriot, who had an OBP of .387 last season. That figure had fallen to .335 Sunday, and Theriot last drew a walk on May 14.
Earlier on the road trip, Piniella expressed exasperation and disbelief over his team’s lack of hitting. He even went as far as berating the team’s traveling secretary for booking too nice of a hotel in St. Louis. He finally decided that a mellow approach was best.
Padres 7, Cubs 2: Cubs batters scored more than one run in a game for the first time on the six-game road trip. Reed Johnson hit a two-run homer. LHP Ted Lilly worked 6 1/3 innings, giving up five runs and eight hits. RHP Aaron Heilman, who relieved Lilly in the seventh, gave up a three-run homer to Kevin Kouzmanoff. The Cubs have lost seven in a row overall and were 0-6 on the trip.
• 1B Derrek Lee was a late lineup scratch because he was feeling ill, according to the Cubs. Lee was one of the few Cubs hitting on the road trip. He’s 6-for-19 and on a seven-game hitting streak. Micah Hoffpauir replaced Lee and was 0-for-4.
• RHP David Patton threw a simulated game Saturday in San Diego. Patton has not appeared in a game since May 9. As a Rule 5 pick, the Cubs are trying to “hide” Patton because they risk losing him if they try to put him on waivers and send him to the minor leagues. If manager Lou Piniella continues to show no confidence in Patton, the Cubs may have to offer him back to the Rockies, his original organization.
By The Numbers: 18 1/3—RHP Randy Wells began his career, last season included, with 18 1/3 scoreless innings with the Cubs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first pitcher to toss 18 1/3 scoreless innings to start a Cubs career.
Quote To Note: “But, still, hard to believe. It really is.”—Manager Lou Piniella on the Cubs’ hitting woes after they scored a total of three runs in the first five games of a recent road trip
• LF Alfonso Soriano was 0-for-4 Sunday, and the Cubs’ leadoff man has not hit a home run since May 17. In part because he’s slumping, Soriano took a seat on the bench for Saturday night’s game.
• OF Reed Johnson replaced Kosuke Fukudome in center field and hit his first homer of the year to bring the Cubs within 4-2 in the seventh. Fukudome was getting a rest after going 2-for-15 on the trip; he was 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter Sunday. It was Johnson’s first homer since Aug. 3 of last year. Johnson recorded his 700th career hit and 200th career extra-base hit with the homer.
• 2B Mike Fontenot had the Cubs’ first hit of Sunday’s loss, a single with two outs in the fifth. Fontenot entered the game 3-for-14 on the trip. He said he was working to stay “on top” of the ball instead of “getting under” it.
RHP Rich Harden (mid-back sprain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 18.
RHP Carlos Zambrano (strained left hamstring) went on the 15-day disabled list May 4. He made a rehab start for Class A Daytona on May 17, and he was activated May 22.
RHP Chad Fox (right elbow inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list May 10. He might miss the remainder of the season.
3B Aramis Ramirez (dislocated right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list May 9. He will miss approximately two months.