The Chicago Cubs have no explanations for their final-week slump. They just know that it could cost them a spot in the playoffs.
Fighting for their postseason lives, the Cubs close the regular season with a three-game series against the NL East champion Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.
Houston will close the season with a three-game set against Colorado, while San Francisco will play three games in Los Angeles.
“It’s not from a lack of preparation. It’s not from a lack of trying. It just hasn’t worked out. I don’t have a philosophical quote about it. We lost,” Cubs pitcher Mark Prior said after Chicago suffered its second straight 12-inning loss to Cincinnati.
The Cubs wasted Prior’s best start of the season Thursday. The 24-year-old right-hander struck out a season-high 16 over nine innings, but the Cubs lost to the Reds 2-1.
“I think we all know where we’re at right now,” Prior said. “I could care less about me personally. It’s not about me.”
The Cubs have scored three runs or fewer in each of their five losses.
“Surprised? Absolutely surprised,” shortstop Nomar Garciaparra said of the Cubs’ precarious standing as they approach the season’s final weekend.
“We expected to be in a certain position,” he said. “We expected to just be looking at what we’re doing and not worrying about other boxscores.”
The Cubs will try to break out of their offensive funk against Mike Hampton.
After missing two weeks with a knee injury, Hampton was brilliant in his return to the mound Saturday. The 32-year-old left-hander allowed just three hits over seven innings in a 1-0 win over the Florida Marlins.
“I could definitely tell it’s not 100 percent,” said Hampton, who will have surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee after the playoffs. “But I made a concentrated effort not to change anything. I just wanted to go out there and pitch, put the knee out of my mind.”
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox was pleased with Hampton’s effort and hopes he will be healthy enough to contribute in the postseason.
“You’ve got to remember, it’s a bad knee, and it could always build up with fluid, and he wouldn’t be able to pitch,” Cox said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Braves, who have already clinched their 13th consecutive division title, have won five of their last six.
Cox became just the ninth manager in major league history with 2,000 wins Wednesday after a 6-3 victory over the New York Mets,
“I’ve had a lot of luck,” Cox said. “I’ve been in the right place at the right time. We’ve had a lot of great talent here. You’ve got to have that to win on a consistent basis.”
In 23 seasons, Cox’s overall record is 2,000-1,530. He also has 63 postseason wins, second only to Yankees manager Joe Torre in baseball history. For now, though, Cox is focused solely on preparing for this season’s playoffs. The Braves haven’t won the World Series since 1995.
“I hope we have a great playoff,” Cox said. “That’s more important for sure.”