It occurred to me, watching Cub after Cub fail to bring runners home, that there's no one in the lineup that opposing teams actually fear when he comes to bat.
Not even Derrek Lee, who extended his hitting streak to 21 games last night. That's the longest Cub hitting streak since Jerome Walton's post-1900 team record 30, set in 1989. Lee is a fine hitter and is on a great run right now, but he doesn't strike the "this guy could hit the ball out of the ballpark on any swing" fear into opposing pitchers.
The Cubs lost to the Tigers 5-3 last night, and once again had an inning -- this time the sixth -- when they loaded the bases with nobody out. When you do that, you absolutely have to make it into some sort of crooked-number inning. The score was only 2-1 Tigers at the time, and the Cubs, even with the lower part of the order due to bat, should have broken the game open.
Instead, all they got was a consolation tying run, and they nearly didn't even get that; after Geovany Soto struck out, Mike Fontenot hit what might have been an inning-ending DP. He hustled and beat the relay, so a run scored, tying the game.
That's when the bullpen started to fail; Aaron Heilman was called on when Rich Harden got himself into trouble again (Harden has looked pretty mediocre since his return from the DL, save for the first start back) and he allowed two inherited runners to score.
And what's up with Carlos Marmol? His command is nearly completely gone. He is averaging an astoundingly bad 8.8 walks per nine innings, and he put the game out of reach by walking in a run in the eighth inning. Even at that, the Cubs managed to get the tying run on base with nobody out in the ninth inning off Tigers closer Fernando Rodney, but failed to even advance a runner. It got so bad that Milton Bradley couldn't even break his bat over his leg after striking out (maybe he should take some lessons on that from Z -- yes, I'm joking).
Bottom line: the Cubs left 13 men on base, so they're getting plenty of chances. They just need that big bat to bring them home.
Defensive notes: Jake Fox actually played credibly well at third base. He snagged a line drive neatly, and stopped another ground ball from going through with a diving stop, even though he was unable to right himself and throw the runner out in time. It's too bad that the power bat that Fox was showing in Triple-A has been mostly absent since his recall. Sure, he's hitting .300 -- 9-for-30 -- but that is comprised of six singles and three doubles, and he has scored only one run. Fox nearly hit into a triple play in the second inning; with runners on first and second he hit a ground ball to Brandon Inge, who was standing only a couple of steps from third base. Inge stepped on the bag, bounced a throw to second to retire Bradley, but Placido Polanco's relay was a hair too late to triple-up Fox. If Inge's throw hadn't bounced, they probably would have turned it. I saw the Cubs turn a triple play exactly this way in the second inning of a game on June 2, 1983. The hitter was Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden.
Trivia aside, the Cubs need a win badly, even though they kept pace with the division-leading Cardinals, who lost 11-0 to the Mets last night. The game preview thread for today's afternoon game will be posted at 10:30 am CDT.