I don't want to sound alarmist, but the last time the Cubs had an extended period of offensive futility comparable to the last four games (two runs scored total) was from May 2-6, 2006, when they scored two runs in five games; those were the first five losses of an eight-game losing streak (and 12 losses in 13 games) that set the tone for that disastrous season.
This team is better than that one, although the 2006 Cubs had suffered a similar loss to this year's team in losing a key offensive player (Derrek Lee, a better hitter then than he is now in '06, Aramis Ramirez this year) and, trying to mix and match to replace him, sunk into offensive depths that are best not recalled now; that would be far too depressing.
Last night's Cubs had their chances -- with five hits, six walks, a batter hit by a pitch and one more reaching on a San Diego error, they had 13 baserunners. Stranding all of them -- there were no double plays or caught stealings -- the Cubs left RISP in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th innings. That's ridiculously bad; somehow, some way, at least one of those runners should have scored. Instead it was another frustrating loss, 4-0 to the Padres, the first time San Diego has defeated the Cubs since June 4, 2008.
Maybe you'll flame me for handing out yet another hat tip, but give credit to Jake Peavy, who does happen to be one of the better pitchers in the National League, and especially when throwing in his home park. Petco Park can disguise a whole lot of pitching flaws, and Peavy was striking out batters all over the place, ten in all in only six innings. Two more San Diego relievers struck out three each, making it a season high 16 K's for Cubs hitters.
Carlos Zambrano did well enough; only two runs scored while he was actually in the game, and I'm not sure he really needed a pitch count, because the injury from which he returned last night wasn't to his arm. Still, 97 pitches is way too many for only 4.2 innings. During the first inning he looked far too amped up, pitching all over the place; he settled down in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, even while allowing the Padres' first run, and might have run out of gas before being yanked for Aaron Heilman, who promptly allowed the Padres' third run on an 0-2 pitch that probably should have been wasted.
It's too early to panic, though it's not too early for Jim Hendry to think about some further roster moves to improve this anemic offense. I still think inquiring of the Cleveland Indians for the availability of Mark DeRosa would be an excellent idea -- DeRosa, though not now hitting as he did last year, is well suited to Wrigley Field (.307/.396.468 lifetime there with 16 HR in 521 AB) and would solve... well, the Aaron Miles problem, if nothing else. Or, maybe put Alfonso Soriano at 2B and Micah Hoffpauir in LF -- Soriano says he's willing and able:
"I can be part-time there, like Mark DeRosa," said Soriano, who indicated he can play short, too. "He's a great player and can play second, right field, left, third base, whatever they want."
If Piniella wants to move Soriano to second, he not only has spent most of his big-league career at that spot, but he likes it.
"They [the Washington Nationals] made me a left fielder," he said. "I didn't like that [in 2006]."
The good news is that Brewers got pounded by the Twins 11-3 last night, so the Cubs remain four games behind, even while falling into fourth place behind the Reds, who beat the Indians last night. Slumps like this can turn around in a heartbeat. The Cubs still have outstanding starting pitching, and even during the five-game losing streak have allowed 16 runs (15 earned, a team ERA of 3.00 during the streak). During the eight-game streak in 2006, the pitching staff allowed 44 runs -- there's the difference, the 2009 pitchers are far better, and the hitters will start hitting.