Lou Piniella is so conditioned to hearing the same questions after a Cubs' defeat that he begins answering them before they are asked.
So after the Cubs botched several scoring opportunities Wednesday night in a 2-1 loss to San Diego, Piniella knew exactly what was coming.
"Another case of …"
"We talk about it way too often," Piniella said, interrupting the question. "I get tired of talking about the same thing, I really do. I mean I really, really get tired of it. It's hard explaining it all the time. I mean, it really is.
"I wish you all could sit back here and I could write and you could give … I mean, I don't know what to say. I just don't know what to say. It just happens too many times.
"You know, it just happens too many times. That's all I've got to say. I mean, I know they're trying, but we leave 'em on when we have a chance to do things with baseball games. We just don't [come through]."
Sean Marshall pitched seven strong innings in his first start this season but was a tough-luck loser as the Cubs started their West Coast swing with two straight losses.
The Cubs were leading 1-0 with a man on first and one out in the seventh when Piniella visited the mound to see if Marshall was tiring.
"I was yelling, 'You just jinxed him, Lou,'" said winning pitcher David Wells, who called Piniella's visit "the kiss of death."
Two pitches later, Marshall served up a two-run homer to rookie Kevin Kouzmanoff that gave the Padres all the runs they would need.
"I said I was feeling good, feeling strong," Marshall said. "I told him I was going to give him my double play pitch, but I left it up and he hit it out of the park, unfortunately."
The Cubs didn't give Marshall much breathing room after Mark DeRosa's RBI single in the second. Matt Murton was doubled off second on a line drive to left in the fifth, spoiling one opportunity.
"Murton had a good game, except for his base-running," Piniella said. "Ran us out of an inning with no outs."
Cesar Izturis grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh with the bases loaded and one out and Aramis Ramirez stranded two in the eighth. After DeRosa's two-out triple off Trevor Hoffman in the ninth, Jacque Jones lined out to right to end it.
The Cubs were 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and are 3-for-18 in the series. They're second in the league in hitting, but don't seem to come through when it matters most.
"Yeah, we're second in the league in hitting, and we're (2-10) in one-run games," Piniella said. "It just doesn't add up, does it? No, it really doesn't."
Despite a spending spree last off-season, the revamped Cubs are 20-24 and treading water in the National League Central. Has Piniella changed his opinion on the merits of his ballclub since the season began?
"The only opinion change I have is it really looked good on paper," he said. "And it hasn't played quite the same on the field."
Piniella conceded he never thought they would be below .500 at this juncture of the season.
"No, I thought we'd be better than this," he said. "But I should feel that way as a manager."
After 47 games last year, the Cubs were 18-29 and 12 1/2 games out of first-place. After Wednesday's loss, they trail first-place Milwaukee by 6 1/2 games, thanks in part to the 2-10 record in one-run games.
Despite their inconsistencies, first baseman Derrek Lee looked at the glass as being half-full. He said they haven't played poorly and they haven't played great, which is the model for a .500 team.
Still, Lee believes it's early enough for the Cubs to climb back into the race.
"I'm not disappointed," Lee said. "I'm not frustrated. Obviously we want to be in first place and 10 games above .500, but we're not. So what do you do? You keep fighting."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times