The Chicago Cubs’ season has reached meltdown status.
Mired in a season-high five-game losing streak after committing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the team - and one day after their ace and starting catcher were involved in two fights - the Cubs (22-30) continue a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves (31-23) on Saturday.
During an 8-5 loss on Friday, Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett traded shoves in the dugout after Atlanta scored five runs in the fifth inning to break open a 2-1 game. One of the runs was scored on a passed ball and throwing error by Barrett.
Zambrano, while yelling at Barrett, pointed at his own head. Barrett responded by making a gesture before Zambrano connected with a left-handed slap and teammates separated them. Moments after Zambrano and Barrett went to the clubhouse, manager Lou Piniella was alerted by an attendant.
Derrek Lee, Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild all rushed down the tunnel. Neither Zambrano nor Barrett came out for the sixth.
Following the game, Piniella said both players continued to fight in the clubhouse and were sent home while the game continued. It also was revealed that Barrett suffered a cut lip and was taken to a hospital.
“It’s disappointing,” said general manager Jim Hendry, who was on a scouting trip. “You certainly don’t like to see that. Frustration set in. You’ve got two guys who care about winning.”
A frustrated Piniella got angry near the end of his postgame media session with reporters.
“I only have so many players that I can play. You know?” he said. “And it’s about time some of them start playing like major leaguers! Or, get somebody else in here that can catch the damn ball or run the bases properly! All right? That’s all I can say!”
Zambrano’s 26th birthday was a forgettable one. He allowed seven runs and a career-high 13 hits with two walks and no strikeouts over five innings, dropping the volatile right-hander to 5-5 with a 5.62 ERA.
From 2003-06, Zambrano led Chicago in most categories, including wins (59) and strikeouts (768). In February, Zambrano agreed to a $12.4 million, one-year contract right before an arbitration hearing. He can become a free agent after the season, but it was believed Zambrano was negotiating a five-year extension worth around $80 million.
To try end the slide, Rich Hill (4-4, 3.06 ERA) will try to post his first victory in five starts for Chicago. After winning his first three starts this season while recording a 0.41 ERA, the left-hander is just 1-4 with a 4.43 ERA in seven starts since.
Hill, though, seems to be reverting back to his early-season form. He scattered three hits over six scoreless innings on Sunday in a 2-1, 11-inning road loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs have plated just five runs while losing in Hill’s last four starts, all on the road.
“We’ve got to stay positive, that’s the biggest thing,” Hill told the Cubs’ official Web site. “It takes work to stay positive - it’s easy to say, ‘Here we go again’ and have a negative attitude.”
Hill defeated Atlanta on April 19, allowing four hits with seven strikeouts through eight innings of a 3-0 victory. He’s 2-0 with an 0.66 ERA versus the Braves, but has never faced them at Wrigley Field.
The Braves’ Chuck James (5-4, 3.86) will try to post back-to-back wins for the first time since his first two outings of 2007. The left-hander gave up a run and five hits with a career high-tying eight strikeouts over six innings of Atlanta’s 2-1 win in Milwaukee on Monday.
“It’s definitely huge for me,” said James, who’s won his last three road decisions. “I’ve been struggling a little bit with mechanics. This was the first day I felt like I could just throw the ball and I knew I could throw strikes.”
James was victorious in his only career start against the Cubs on Sept. 9, allowing three runs over seven innings of a 7-3 win in Atlanta. He’s never pitched at Wrigley Field.