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How To Break An Eight-Game Losing Streak: Cubs vs. Pirates, Tuesday 5/26, 7:05 CT

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Well, if I knew the answer to that question, I'd be in the dugout, not writing this blog. Yahoo's Jeff Passan trots out the tired old saw -- Lou needs to blow up:

Little irks Piniella more than prolonged misery, his last epic explosion coming June 2, 2007, during a six-game losing streak. He kicked dirt, then kicked his hat and, for good measure, kicked an umpire. Then he watched the Cubs boot their losing attitude and finish on a 63-46 binge. This much can be said of Piniella: He does nothing halfway.

That "epic explosion" came fairly early in Lou's first year as manager, before he knew the team well, and one day after a blowup in the Cubs dugout between teammates Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett. It was calculated. Doing the same thing right now would be... pointless. This team doesn't need a blowup, it just needs more timely hitting, better bullpen work, and recovery from all the injuries. And, as Passan writes later in his article:

The Cubs don’t know who or what they are. Playing for Piniella puts a certain fear into players – "You know what Lou expects," [Mark] DeRosa said – and motivates them accordingly. And yet that self-assuredness that no manager alone can imbue in a group, the swagger that the Cubs embodied last regular season, is missing.

"I’m not sure what the identity of this team is," [Ted] Lilly said. "I think we’re still trying to find it. It takes some time. It’s not June yet."

It's hard to find a team identity when players are on a revolving door through the DL. But Lilly is right in implying that it's still very early and there's time to find that identity, and win with it. However, losing 8 in a row puts the Cubs on a very short list if they intend to repeat a postseason appearance. Very few teams have managed that many losses in a row and still made the postseason. Last year's Dodgers are one of them; they lost 8 in a row even after they got Manny Ramirez and at the end of that streak were five games under .500 at 65-70, 4.5 games out of first place -- just half a game better off than the Cubs are now, except there were 27 games left for them, not 119. The Dodgers suddenly turned it on, went 19-8 the rest of the year (best in baseball over that span) and won the NL West.

The 2006 Cardinals had two eight-game losing streaks and another of seven -- and that last streak came late in September and they almost blew a seven-game lead with 12 to play -- but they squeaked into the postseason and went 11-5 when it counted and won it all.

Then there's my favorite example, the 2000 Yankees, who had a nine-game lead in the AL East with 19 to go and proceeded to lose 15 of their final 18 (one game was cancelled) and the last seven regular season games in a row, and not in close games, either; among the 15 losses were scores of 11-1 (twice), 15-4 (twice), 16-3, 11-3 and 13-2. But they squeaked out a division title because the Red Sox couldn't win when it counted, and won the World Series.

There are also plenty of examples of recent teams that have struggled in May, only to turn it on and make postseasons. But the Cubs had better start tonight.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall
Cubs
vs. Ian Snell
Ian Snell
Pirates
2-3 W-L 1-5
3.96 ERA 4.88
23 SO 36
11 BB 26
6 HR 6
vs. Pit -- vs. Cubs

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Sean Marshall 2-3 9 6 0 0 0 0 36.1 36 17 16 6 11 23 3.96 1.29


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Ian Snell 1-5 9 9 0 0 0 0 48.0 46 28 26 6 26 36 4.88 1.50

Ian Snell has made 11 appearances (9 starts) lifetime vs. the Cubs and is 1-5 with a 5.93 ERA, similar to his numbers this season. He's walked a lot of people this year and Alfonso Soriano usually pounds him -- 9-for-18 with three homers. I liked Sori's leadoff AB yesterday where he took a 12-pitch walk, but I'd settle for a first-pitch leadoff HR today.

Even though the Pirates are a divisional rival, Sean Marshall has not faced them since 2006 (probably because of his shuttling back and forth to Iowa and the bizarre scheduling of 2008 when the Cubs played the Pirates 12 times by the end of May and hardly at all after), when he made three starts against them, getting a win and a no-decision. Only two current Pirates -- Nate McLouth (2-for-8, a HR) and Jack Wilson (3-for-9) have more than three AB vs. Sean.

The Cubs are on cable only today (CSN in Chicago and FSN in Pittsburgh). Perhaps you are happy about that if you live outside these areas. For today's other games see the MLB.com Mediacenter.

MLB.com Gameday

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

Overflow comment threads will post today at 8 pm, 9 pm and 9:45 pm CDT.

Discuss amongst yourselves.