Go ahead, pick a reason for the Cubs’ first three-game losing streak of the year:
1. Starting pitching – as in the five first-inning runs allowed by Carlos Zambrano against the Dodgers Sunday and the three homers allowed in a gusty 4-3 loss to the Rockies by James Russell Tuesday night? And the major-league worst 5.91 ERA by Cubs starters?
2. Sloppy fielding – as in the four errors and four unearned runs in that two-run loss to the Rockies on Monday?
3. Lack of tack-on runs in each of the three games – the Cubs scoring two runs in each first inning the past three games, but just two runs total after that, including Alfonso Soriano’s ninth-inning solo home run Tuesday?
The bigger question might be: How much of this is a big enough part of who this team is to suggest long-term problems? And, assuming they can turn things around long-term, what will that take and when will it start?
For now, the Cubs try to avoid getting swept Wednesday for the first time this season as they mull their options for the fifth spot in the rotation next time around after Russell got through just four innings again Tuesday.
Russell said he’s willing to do whatever the Cubs want – whether that’s make a fourth start Sunday or return to the pen.
Manager Mike Quade said he hasn’t given it a lot of thought but suggested his only other in-house option is Jeff Samardzija, who’s on a 9-inning scoreless streak out of the pen spanning two weeks. But, said Quade, “That’s something I’m not interested in doing.”
Outside of that, he said, “You keep looking at people that are pitching in AAA, especially who can give you length and quality. If nobody’s ready to do that, then we’ll continue to look from within.”
AAA Iowa starter Jay Jackson could be close after allowing just four hits and a run in 6 2/3 innings Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ll figure that out,” Quade said. “But right now I have no clue.”
From the looks of things through 23 games, he might have much bigger things to figure out than Sunday’s starter.
For all the excitement surrounding Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney – and the strong Aramis Ramirez and Jeff Baker – the Cubs are hitting just .229 with runners in scoring position this season.
That includes 0-for-10 after the first inning the past two games combined – albeit, only one such chance after the first on Tuesday.
In fact, even in the two-run first Tuesday, the Cubs went just 1-for-5 with men in scoring position.
And despite seven home runs from Alfonso Soriano so far, the rest of the team has just nine, and nobody else with more than two – including Carlos Pena and Marlon Byrd looking for their first each.
They’ve been out-homered 26-16 already this season.
“I’m very surprised, because I think we’re working a lot,” Soriano said. “I think it has to be the weather and people that aren’t comfortable with the weather. I think as soon as we have some nice weather and have a couple more homers we’ll be in good shape.”
Quade isn’t as concerned about the home runs as he is about scoring in general recently.
“We haven’t been driving the ball out of the ballpark, but we have a whole lot of people with a history of doing that, and we believe they will,” he said. “The one thing that they’ve got to do is keep working and do what they’re doing. People start changing because of the weather, or they’re not hitting homers, and they start back-legging and stuff, that’s not good.
“You just have to believe that a good approach at the plate is going to bring you back to what you do well.”
Of course, none of it will matter if the starters don’t pitch well. Here are the individual ERAs (as starters) of the five guys currently in the rotation: 4.11, 5.28, 7.43, 7.63 and 8.53.
That 7.63 belongs to Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster. Russell’s is the last one. And the best of the bunch, Matt Garza, doesn’t have so much as a win to show for it.