Lou's Losing Sleep
Lou Piniella (AP)
Lou Piniella (AP)

Posted May 21, 2009


Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he's been losing sleep trying to think of solutions for his underachieving lineup and hinted at possible changes that could affect veteran All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee and Rookie of the Year catcher Geovany Soto.

"I've thought about it a lot, believe me," Piniella said after his team went 17 consecutive innings without scoring in St. Louis on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"While everybody's sleeping, I'm up. I've got to be as patient as I possibly can to give these people ample opportunities to shake out of it, but sooner or later -- I mean, (Micah) Hoffpauir's hitting .300, and (Koyie) Hill's hitting .300. Sooner or later, I've got to do something."

Hoffpauir, who came off the bench in the ninth to drive in the Cubs' only run since Sunday, would seem to be the alternative to Lee (.230). Hill backs up Soto (.202).

But despite the long struggles of those starters, both are showing signs of stirring. Even Wednesday, Lee and Soto accounted for two of the three hits off Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who went five innings in his return from a ribcage injury.

The bigger problems are the hole in the middle of the lineup created by third baseman Aramis Ramirez's shoulder injury and the extended slump of right fielder Milton Bradley -- who compounded the issue Wednesday by getting doubled off first base in the fourth inning on a routine fly to left-center.

"I'm the main culprit -- terrible at-bats," Bradley said. "Just not doing anything, not even hitting the ball out of the infield. It's frustrating, and to have mental lapses out there -- just completely getting outplayed."

The most confounding thing to Piniella about his lineup is that this is a group that returned almost every key hitter from the National League's best lineup in 2008 -- then added Bradley in the winter and got the pleasant surprise of center fielder Kosuke Fukudome reversing last year's four-month nosedive to end the season. On top of that, left fielder Alfonso Soriano had his first productive April in three seasons with the Cubs.

And yet, the team is 12th in the National League in hitting, eighth in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and ninth in hitting with men in scoring position.

Last year? The Cubs were second in hitting and led the NL in all of the other categories, as well as scoring.

"Let's not blow it out of proportion," Lee said. "You're not going to score six runs every single day. It's not going to happen. I don't care if you're an All-Star team. That being said, you don't want it to continue, so we need to do a better job."

CARDINALS 2, CUBS 1: One night after getting shut out on three hits in barely two hours, the Cubs faced Carpenter in his return from the disabled list, and he held them to three hits in five shutout innings. The Cubs rallied in the ninth against RHP Ryan Franklin, with Bradley hitting a one-out double, Soto drawing a two-out walk, and Hoffpauir driving home Bradley with a single. The slumping lineup wasted another good starting pitching performance, this time by RHP Ryan Dempster (3-3), who went seven innings for the staff's 23rd quality start. Lee said Carpenter (2-0) was the "nastiest pitcher I've faced all year."

NEWS, NOTES

--Dempster, following a rough April, has a 3.29 ERA in four May starts, although it's netted him just two wins in that span.

--The Cubs rotation has been the savior for a team that has had breakdowns in almost every other area in the early going. The starters are 16-11 with 23 quality starts, third most in the majors.

"Our starting pitching basically has been the key to why we're over .500 all year," Piniella said. "It's given us a chance in a vast majority of our games to win."

--3B Mike Fontenot dropped a foul pop for an error Wednesday night, which wasn't a factor in the 2-1 loss to the Cardinals. But it meant that the Cubs fell to 2-11 when they commit an error.

--The Cubs are 0-14 when they score fewer than four runs after losing 2-1 Wednesday.

--Maybe it's the toasted ravioli? The Cubs have lost four of five at Busch Stadium this season, scoring 10 runs in their wins and three, two, zero and one in their losses. They're hitting just .243 (41-for-169) overall in St. Louis this year -- .209 (27-for-129) in the losses.

--RHP Kevin Gregg, the Cubs' third closer in as many seasons, is still a work in progress for his new team. After watching him get hit hard Sunday after a three-day layoff, Piniella made a point to pitch him in the eighth inning Tuesday, even though the Cubs trailed 3-0.

"We brought him in just to get him some work and sharpen him up as much as possible," Piniella said, "so that when we have a save situation he's got a little work built up."

--INF Aaron Miles went 0-for-3 Tuesday, dropping his average to .209 this season. Then he shaved his goatee, and Wednesday he came off the bench and got a hit.

--Fontenot, the best defensive solution to cover for the injured Ramirez among a handful of out-of-position options, is in a 2-for-36 slump after another hitless game Wednesday.

ON THE FARM ...

TENNESSEE 2, CHATTANOOGA 0 (CLASS AA)

At Chattanooga, Tenn., LHP Casey Lambert (3-2) tossed seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball to lead the Smokies (18-18) to the victory Wednesday. Lambert struck out a season-high five batters and did not allow a walk, lowering his ERA to 1.91 in seven starts. He has tossed 15 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to May 8. 1B Blake Lalli (2-for-3) collected two hits and drove in the game’s only two runs. 2B Tony Thomas (1-for-5) extended his hit streak to seven games with his ninth double.

WEST MICHIGAN 6, PEORIA 2 (CLASS A)

At Peoria, the Chiefs (21-17) were held to five hits in the loss Wednesday. LF Josh Harrison (3-for-3) paced the offense with three doubles and reached base in all four plate appearances. 3B Josh Vitters (0-for-4) was hitless to snap a six-game hit streak. RHP Chris Carpenter (1-3) started and took the loss, allowing two runs and six hits in three innings. He struck out three batters and walked three.

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