When former Cubs president and current Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail sent Steve Trachsel from Baltimore to the Cubs on Aug. 31, it may have been his final chance to seal his legacy with the organization.
And if Trachsel continues to pitch like he did Sunday in a 10-5 loss to Pittsburgh, the Cubs probably will be sitting home in October and the term "MacPhail's revenge" may grow in infamy.
Staked to a 2-0 lead in his second start since returning to the Cubs, Trachsel allowed six second-inning runs, including five with two outs, before manager Lou Piniella mercifully removed him.
The loss, coupled with Milwaukee's 10-5 victory over Cincinnati, dropped the Cubs into second place in the National League Central, one game behind the Brewers. It's the first time since Aug. 16 the Cubs haven't had at least a share of the top spot in the division.
"I don't know if [chasing Milwaukee] is different," Piniella said. "One game in the standings? If we play well enough, we'll get a chance to get back on top, and if we don't, it's not going to matter."
The Cubs have lost five of their last seven games after winning back-to-back series against Milwaukee and Houston.
"It's no different feeling," Derrek Lee said of falling behind. "It's just getting to the end with the most wins. Right now we're in second, but it doesn't really matter."
What does matter is the Cubs' pitching staff is in a rut. It has a 5.81 earned-run average in September, which is not exactly the way management mapped it out when Trachsel was acquired for the stretch drive.
And it's not what Trachsel expected of himself when he returned to his old team.
"I'm disappointed," Trachsel said. "But it has nothing to do with being here or anywhere else. Disappointing no matter where I'd be, pitching like that."
The Cubs return home Monday to face St. Louis in the makeup of the postponement on Aug. 19, with Ted Lilly facing the Cardinals' Joel Pineiro.
Is this showdown more important than any other game the rest of the year?
"I don't think so," Piniella said. "Just another game on the schedule. We have to post wins now. That's really the important thing. Wherever they come, whoever they come against."
With the September call-ups, Piniella has an 11-man bullpen. He used seven relievers after Trachsel bombed early.
After Jason Kendall's two-run single in the first, Trachsel started the second by serving up a double to Adam LaRoche. Steve Pearce's one-out single brought home the first Pirates run before Trachsel induced Ronny Paulino to fly out.
But Trachsel promptly gave up three straight hits, including RBI singles to pitcher Matt Morris and Nyjer Morgan, before loading the bases with a walk. Freddy Sanchez then hit a liner to center and Jacque Jones took a bad route and made an ill-advised dive in a failed attempt to catch the ball.
Piniella said the ball was "knuckling," and Trachsel agreed.
The ball rolled past Jones to the outfield wall, scoring all three runners, before Sanchez was called out at the plate attempting an inside-the-park grand slam. Replays showed Kendall's tag was late, but the Pirates had to settle for a six-run inning off Trachsel.
"Didn't seem like he had good stuff," Piniella said. "Getting the ball up. They hit him pretty hard."
Trailing 7-2, the Cubs got a two-run homer from Alfonso Soriano in the fifth and Geovany Soto's first career homer in the seventh, but Kerry Wood put the game out of reach in the three-run eighth, failing to retire any of the four batters he faced as his ERA soared to 5.52.
"We've been playing .500 for about a month, or a little below," Piniella said. "Sooner or later, we have to do a little better than that."
If it's not sooner, later may not matter.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times