The Cubs sank to a new low Monday night at Wrigley Field when they dropped into fifth place in the National League Central with a 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Despite four solo home runs, including a pair by Jeromy Burnitz, the Cubs fell a half-game behind fourth-place Cincinnati, whose game in Pittsburgh was postponed by rain.
The Cubs haven't been this low in the standings this late in the season since 2002, when Bruce Kimm replaced the fired Don Baylor on a 67-95 team. Manager Dusty Baker hasn't finished below fourth place since 1996 in San Francisco and has never managed a fifth-place team in his 12 seasons with the Giants and Cubs.
A six-run second inning off starter Jerome Williams, highlighted by a bases-loaded walk to pitcher D.J. Houlton and defensive lapses by shortstop Neifi Perez and third baseman Nomar Garciaparra, gave the crowd of 37,625 ample opportunities to vent their displeasure.
And vent they did.
Williams heard their wrath while being removed with two outs in the second, as did familiar targets Corey Patterson and Todd Hollandsworth, who was traded during the game to Atlanta for two Class A pitchers, Todd Blackford and Angelo Burrows.
"It didn't work out the way we wanted to with [Hollandsworth]," general manager Jim Hendry said. "But if wasn't for lack of effort."
Baker and the kids
Hendry and Baker may be on the same page, but they appear to be using different scripts when it comes to rookies Ronny Cedeno and Matt Murton.
Cedeno sat again as Perez started, and his only start during the Dodgers series will be Tuesday against right-hander Brad Penny. Cedeno is hitting .324 against right-handers and .214 against left-handers.
"I just can't take the ball and glove out of Neifi's hands," Baker argued. "It's not fair to just sit him down for what he's done for us. So I've got to find a way, at least for a while, for both of them to play."
Murton will rejoin the club from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, but Baker would not say how much playing time he'd get in left field.
"Depends on how [much time] I can get Corey [Patterson] and [Jerry] Hairstonhe's playing pretty good," Baker said. "You've still got to win games too.
"If you haven't noticed, I play everybody on my team. I always have. So it's not going to be any different. They're going to get at-bats big-time. You guys ask me the same questions every day."
Baker said Monday that Hendry "doesn't tell me who to play." On Saturday, Hendry told reporters that "if Cedeno and Murton are playing, that's a positive, and I think our fan base would appreciate that."
Baker sparred with the media before Monday's game and clearly is tired of discussing the issue of whether to evaluate young talent in September.
Hendry said Monday he doesn't anticipate bringing up more than four or five players after rosters expand Thursday, and Baker might not play them much anyway.
"If there is any game to play, I try to win," Baker said. "Whether it's against you, my mom, my father, my son, I don't care. I'm gonna beat you."