With new manager Lou Piniella at the helm and the acquisition of free-agent superstar Alfonso Soriano, the Chicago Cubs broke spring training believing this could be the year they end their championship drought. One month into the season, though, they’re one of the worst teams in the National League.
The Cubs try to put a disappointing April behind them when they open May against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday.
Chicago (10-14) is tied for the second-fewest wins in the NL after losing Monday’s series opener 3-2 as Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay homered in the eighth to provide the winning run.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Cubs, who fell to 0-6 in one-run games.
“When we start hitting the ball more consistently, scoring a few more runs - I’m not talking about eight or nine one day and two the next, I’m talking about consistency - then you’ll see this club win more games,” Piniella said.
Soriano, who hit a career-high 46 home runs last season with Washington, got two hits on Monday, but has yet to homer this season.
Derrek Lee went 2-for-5 with a double and a run, and is batting .415 (17-for-41) with seven doubles and 10 runs during his nine-game hitting streak.
Lee has just one home run this season. He may have a good chance to change that Tuesday as he is 10-for-29 (.345) with four homers in his career against Pirates starter Tony Armas (0-2, 11.57 ERA).
Armas gave up just one run and six hits in five innings of a 5-3 victory over Houston on Thursday at PNC Park, but did not factor in the decision. He managed to lower his ERA from 18.90 with the solid outing.
The right-hander is 3-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 10 career starts against Chicago, but has won his last two starts versus the Cubs, giving up three runs in those contests.
Chicago counters with Ted Lilly (2-2, 2.18), who finally received some run support in his last start.
The left-hander gave up two runs and six hits in seven innings of a 9-3 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday, his first victory since defeating Cincinnati in his April 4 season debut. He had received just three total runs of support in his previous three starts
Lilly’s opponents are batting only .178, and he has 33 strikeouts to just five walks in 33 innings this season, his first with the Cubs after spending seven seasons in the American League.
Lilly made his major league debut against the Pirates, but hasn’t faced them since 1999, his first major league season. In two relief appearances against them with Montreal, he allowed three runs in 2 1-3 innings.
Pittsburgh (12-12) had lost its previous two games by a combined 17-6 before Monday’s victory.
“To sneak in there and take this one, that was big,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, last year’s NL batting champion, was 2-for-22 (.091) in his previous six games before getting a pair of singles Monday.
The Pirates have won five of their last seven at PNC Park after starting the season 0-4 at home.