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No luck in crunch timeon, off field
The Cubs find themselves in an unusual position three days before the trading deadline, trying to win a wild-card playoff spot with inexperienced players in several key roles.
If it works, the Cubs can have their cake and eat it too.
If it doesn't, general manager Jim Hendry may be second-guessed in October for failing to fill holes during the season and relying on youth.
After Thursday's 6-0 loss to Arizona, first baseman Derrek Lee addressed the degree of difficulty in winning now and looking ahead at the same time.
"It is tough," Lee said. "This is pretty much crunch time, and we have some young guys on the roster we have to use. Arizona is fighting in their division. It's a little tougher in crunch time to develop players, but you have to do it."
With a lineup that included rookies Ronny Cedeno and Matt Murton, the Cubs managed only five hits against Diamondbacks left-hander Brad Halsey and three relievers, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
They are three games behind Washington and Houston in the National League wild-card chase, but lost a prime opportunity to gain some ground.
While Hendry works to make a deadline deal for another outfielder and reliever, manager Dusty Baker insisted Hendry's hands are tied by several factors.
"There are so many teams in the race, these guys aren't available right now," Baker said. "And if they are, they want your top three guys in the minor leagues, and you don't want to mortgage all the future for the present."
Boston left fielder Manny Ramirez is available after asking to be traded, but the Cubs aren't likely to swallow a contract that pays him $57 million over the next three years after ridding themselves of Sammy Sosa's super-sized contract.
The rest of the field is slim pickings, with no standout players.
The Cubs are playing well since the All-Star break with a .297 batting average and a 3.47 earned-run average, but they have only a 9-6 record to show for it.
On Thursday, the Cubs wasted a decent outing by Jerome Williams, who allowed one run on seven hits in 51/3 innings.
But Williams (3-4) threw a season-high 122 pitches and walked four batters, forcing his early exit. After serving up a home run to Chad Tracy in the first inning, Williams got in and out of jams in every inning until being removed with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth.
Left-hander Will Ohman came in and got out of the inning unscathed. But he walked Tracy leading off the seventh and gave up a two-run home run to Luis Gonzalez.
"Today was a little game of extremes," Ohman said. "At least for me."
Michael Wuertz completely lost it in the Diamondbacks' three-run ninth, putting the game out of reach as he walked three of the first five batters he faced and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch.
"A couple of guys pitched good, and a couple of guys pitched not so good," Baker said.
The Diamondbacks came into Thursday's game with a 49-54 record, but were only three games behind West Division-leading San Diego and had gained 3½ games in the standings going 5-5 in their previous 10 games. Halsey (7-7), acquired from the New York Yankees over the winter in the Randy Johnson deal, needed 73 pitches in his six innings.
"I don't think we swung the bats well," Lee said. "We were dragging a little bit today."
The Cubs best opportunity came in the seventh off Tim Worrell, when Jeromy Burnitz led off with a double and advanced on Neifi Perez's bunt, which was scored as a sacrifice.
Todd Hollandsworth struck out for the sixth straight time over his last three games, leaving him 2-for-28 in his last nine games. After a walk to Jody Gerut brought the tying run to the plate, Jerry Hairston popped to second on the first pitch.
"We had guys in scoring position, I know I did," Hairston said. "But we just couldn't get that hit."