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Bullpen Shines, But Too Late; Cubs' Offense MIA In 4-1 Loss To Mets

The good news for the Cubs today is that their much-maligned bullpen threw 5.2 innings of one-hit, no-walk, five-strikeout ball.

The bad news is all of that came after Carlos Zambrano -- who had "mechanical" problems again according to Lou in his postgame news conference -- gave up eleven Mets hits while recording only ten outs with 75 pitches. Some of the hits were ground balls that just found holes, but that was enough for a rather dull 4-1 loss to the Mets on one of the only afternoons all summer when there were no clouds in the sky, despite the game-time temperature being reported at an April-like 57 degrees. (The upper deck facing the wind wasn't nearly full at game time and emptied out early.)

Z also had velocity problems as he only threw a handful of pitches over 90 MPH as measured by the Wrigley Field pitch speed indicator. Now, that may not be 100% accurate, although I have found it to be pretty close in the several years since it was installed at the top of the upper deck. But if he's got both mechanical trouble and he's throwing only 89 MPH fastballs, is that an indicator that he's still hurt?

The Cubs had plenty of chances to score runs today, too; they had a run within the first four batters of the game and could have broken the game open against Nelson Figueroa. Now think about that name again -- Nelson Figueroa, a 35-year-old journeyman who came into the game with a 5.40 ERA and zero career wins vs. the Cubs. And he struck out nine in the first four innings. What's up with that?

The one occasion on which the Cubs could have come back into the game was with two out in the fifth inning, after a Ryan Theriot single and Milton Bradley being hit by a pitch. Derrek Lee ran the count to 3-0 and it appeared Figueroa was rattled. Instead of taking 3-0 and maybe getting on base, or even taking a 3-1 strike, forcing Figueroa to throw more pitches, Lee flied to right to end the inning. There were quite a number of instances of players swinging at first pitches, including Aaron Miles' latest awful pinch-hit AB (a lazy fly to left on the first pitch), and several of Geovany Soto's AB. Lou also said that he's going to give Koyie Hill the bulk of the playing time the rest of the way. That's not to say that Hill is a great player -- he's not -- but right now he's hitting more consistently than Soto and he seems to have the confidence of the pitching staff. Soto can get in shape over the winter and try to win his job back next spring.

What more can be said? The hanging-on-by-a-thread playoff hopes still hang, as with 34 games remaining the deficit in the wild-card race is six games (at the time I wrote this; if the Rockies hold on to their lead on the Giants, it would be 6.5 games). There's still time, but it is growing short. A winning streak comprising at least the rest of this homestand would be helpful; at the very least it would include a win over the White Sox, something that's always pleasant. The division title is pretty much a foregone conclusion to the Cardinals, who are now 10 games ahead and have a magic number to clinch of 23.

Just beat the Astros tomorrow and go from there.