The acquisitions of Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton were supposed to provide instant energy to the Cubs, but so far the offense has remained on life support.
Houston right-hander Tim Redding and two relievers combined for a two-hitter Saturday in a 3-1 win, pushing the Cubs 51/2 games back in the National League Central.
The Cubs are hitting .190 and have lost three of four since Tuesday's trade with Pittsburgh. How important is Sunday's series finale with the Astros?
"It's just another game," Sammy Sosa said. "C'mon. [Redding] pitched great. He made no mistakes."
The only two hits off Redding (7-9) were by Ramirez, who tripled in the fifth and singled in the seventh. Sosa went 0-for-4 and is 0-for-7 in the series with four strikeouts. Lofton also went 0-for-4 and is 1-for-17 as a Cub.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker conceded Lofton may be pressing to impress his new team.
"The same thing happened last year with us," Baker said, referring to the Giants. "He came in and didn't start off real well. He's not finding holes, but he's hitting the ball. I'm not worried about Kenny Lofton. He'll get it going big-time."
Juan Cruz (1-4) allowed three runs and four hits in six innings in his first start since May 21, 2002, but got no support.
Neither the Cubs nor the Astros seemed comfortable with the strike zone of plate umpire Matt Hollowell.
Houston's Jeff Kent and manager Jimy Williams were ejected for arguing with Hollowell in the sixth inning, and both Sosa and Eric Karros had words with Hollowell after looking at strike three.
"It's not like we didn't have a lot of opportunities," Karros said. "We hit some balls at people. There were a few of us that took some called third strikes we didn't agree with, and it was the same for the other side. I don't know what it was. Maybe both sides didn't have a good idea of the strike zone."
Houston scored all the runs it needed in the first on an RBI groundout by Kent and a run-scoring double by Lance Berkman. Cruz deflected Kent's grounder, which otherwise could have been an inning-ending double play.
Redding retired the first 13 batters before Ramirez poked a 430-foot triple with one out in the fifth inning that barely eluded a diving Craig Biggio in center.
After Karros was retired on a pop foul to the catcher, Alex Gonzalez hit a routine grounder to third baseman Geoff Blum. But Blum's hurried throw pulled first baseman Jeff Bagwell off the bag, allowing Ramirez to score.
Replays showed Gonzalez jogging down the line and barely reaching safely, though Baker said he didn't notice if Gonzalez was going full tilt.
"That's not exactly how I saw it," he said. "He's not that fast. I didn't really think about it."
The Cubs had only four baserunners in the game and only one made it past first. It won't get easier for them on Sunday, when struggling Shawn Estes faces rookie left-hander Jeriome Robertson, who carries a nine-game winning streak into the game.
"It's a big game," Baker said, contradicting Sosa. "It's the difference between 61/2 [games back] and 41/2. [Sunday] is huge."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times