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Zambrano Rotation Return Overshadowed By Offensive Offense; Cubs Lose 3-1

The perfect metaphor for last night's 3-1 Cubs loss to the Astros (and, come to think of it, for the entire 2010 season) was Carlos Zambrano's first at-bat and its aftermath.

You knew, especially with a runner on base and the Cubs trailing 1-0 in the third inning, that Z would likely try to smash a home run completely out of the state of Texas. In fact, letting him swing away probably wouldn't have been a bad idea, because Z has hit four career home runs at Minute Maid Park -- that's his highest total in any ballpark outside of Wrigley Field.

Z's career HR total (20) compares favorably to his career total of sacrifice bunts (32). Nevertheless, Lou ordered Z to sac; predictably, he failed. Starlin Castro was out at second and Z wound up on first base.

Marlon Byrd doubled, but the ball went into the seats, so Z had to stay at third base. After Ryan Theriot hit a fly ball not deep enough to score a run, the Astros intentionally walked Derrek Lee to load the bases and pitch to Aramis Ramirez.

Now think about that for a moment. Before this year and A-Ram's awfulness, would you have ever, EVER seen a team walk someone to pitch to Aramis?

With the bases loaded, A-Ram had a chance to redeem his awful season. He ran the count to 3-1. Felipe Paulino has had control problems this year. Why would you ever, EVER swing at a 3-1 pitch in that situation, even if it looks close to the strike zone? If it's not a strike, you've scored a run!

He swung at it and popped up weakly in foul territory. The game was essentially over then, even with the score only 1-0.

The Cubs managed to tie the game after a scary play when Castro attempted to take third base in the fifth (on another Z sac, this one successful) and hit his shoulder on Astros catcher Humberto Quintero's shin guard. After he lay on the ground for a frightening couple of minutes, he stayed in the game. I imagine he'll be bruised up today, but otherwise fine.

Z had two shaky innings in which he threw a total of 42 pitches, but allowed just the one run. When he doubled that to 84 with a second run having scored in the bottom of the fifth, Lou yanked him for Tom Gorzelanny, who, making his first relief appearance since being moved to the pen in favor of Z, gave up another hit and the third run, which was charged to Zambrano.

The rest of the bullpen did a good job keeping the game close, allowing only a pair of hits for the remainder of the game, but "close" is a relative term. The Cubs went down meekly in the last four innings; the only hit (or baserunner, for that matter) was Alfonso Soriano's sixth-inning double with two out. The Cubs might as well have gone into the clubhouse and watch the Blackhawks try to come back from a similar 3-1 deficit. At least the 'Hawks showed some life in the third period and made it close, losing 5-3. (You didn't expect that series to be a cakewalk, did you?)

Andrew Cashner, in particular, looked great -- he hit 97 at one point on the stadium speed pitch meter.

Here's Lou's reaction:
"I don't think I want to talk about our offense anymore -- I'm talked out," Piniella said. "We'll let them go out there and see what they can do."

Expect more lineup tweaks on Saturday. Piniella said rookie Tyler Colvin will start.

"I've been patient enough watching," Piniella said. "I'm going to let the kid [Colvin] play and see what he can do. We'll have him in the lineup."

If Lou's history is any indicator, Colvin will play for one day (he's going to start him against Roy Oswalt?) and then sit again. Lou's counterintuitive move of leading off Marlon Byrd (who has only seven walks this year) was about the only thing that worked last night -- Byrd had a pair of hits and the only RBI.

Maybe firing the manager is the knee-jerk thing to do and I realize that these players simply aren't producing at anywhere near their level. But sometimes, the manager is the one who has to take the responsibility for that, and regardless of Lou's long history as a manager and his previous success, it is time for him to go. Figure out a way for him to gracefully retire.

And get Aramis Ramirez to the DL. Something's wrong with him, and has been all year. This team can still turn it around... but time grows very short.