With the season dwindling down and their wild card hopes fading away with every missed opportunity, the Cubs have no margin for error.
But Saturday's 4-2 loss to Colorado at Coors Field provided a glimpse of what has been haunting them all season long.
The Cubs went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10 men, while defensive miscues by Matt Lawton and Todd Walker handed the Rockies two gift runs that ultimately decided the outcome.
"We didn't play good defense," manager Dusty Baker said. "We gave them two runs on defense. Glendon (Rusch) threw the ball good tonight. But it makes it tough when you give them runs, and we had opportunities."
The Cubs' three-game win streak came to a crashing halt, leaving them 5 1/2 games behind wild card-leading Philadelphia.
Derrek Lee went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, improving to .346. But despite putting up career-best numbers and establishing himself as one of the game's best all-around first basemen, Lee conceded the season would be "wasted" if the Cubs don't make the postseason.
"Yeah, it would be," he said. "The only thing that matters is making the playoffs. If you don't, what's the purpose?"
Trailing 3-1 in the eighth, Lee poked a one-out double off reliever Mike DeJean and scored on Aramis Ramirez's opposite field, RBI single. But after a single by Jeromy Burnitz and a walk to Michael Barrett loaded the bases, Neifi Perez popped to short, leaving it in the hands of Corey Patterson.
On the first pitch he saw, Patterson grounded to second, quickly ending the rally.
"I just pretty much grounded out," Patterson said. "You usually go back to the at-bat before, almost the same pitch, and I lined it to third base. That's just how it goes, and so be it. It's just a game, you know?"
Patterson saw only five pitches in four at-bats, going 0-for-4 and stranding six base-runners. Baker said he has not considered benching Patterson, despite a .214 average since his return from Triple-A Iowa. Patterson feels his stroke is returning.
"I'm still working at it every day, and I'll get results, like I did today, for me personally," Patterson said.
Kerry Wood, in his first back-to-back outing, served up a solo homer to Dustan Mohr in the eighth, ending his eight-inning scoreless streak as a reliever and giving the Rockies a two-run cushion. Lee came up in the ninth with a man on, but grounded out to first baseman Todd Helton, ending a 10-pitch at-bat against closer Brian Fuentes.
The Cubs fell behind 2-0 in the first on Helton's RBI single off Rusch and a bases-loaded error by Walker with two outs. But Lawton dropped a catchable fly off Mohr's bat with two men on in the third while bending down to make the play, allowing it to glance off his mitt as the third run scored.
"He probably thinks he should've caught it," Baker said. "We should've won that game."
Though the Cubs asked for a scoring change after the game, the ruling stood and Lawton was not charged with an error.
"I don't think I had to dive, but I that ball was in the lights, so I tried to dive to get underneath," Lawton said. "I definitely should have caught it though... It cost us a run."
Colorado starter Aaron Cook (2-1) held the Cubs to one run on seven hits in seven innings, aided by some sterling defensive plays and an impatient Cubs offense.
Lee maintained they're still in the playoff hunt, even though they aren't listed in the wild card standings in most newspapers, or on sports highlight shows.
"That's what happens when you're not at .500," he said. "That being said, we're still in it. Obviously it's an uphill battle, but it can be done. We haven't played like we thought we would, but we're still in it. We can turn around what's been a disappointing season so far."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times