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Cubs bats still snoozing in Arizona
With two on and two outs in the third inning on Tuesday night, Aramis Ramirez dug in to face Arizona right-hander Yusmeiro Petit. He didn't look especially comfortable.
He hasn't for almost a month now.
But Ramirez got hold of a 2-1 fastball, sending the ball flying toward the left-field seats. He thought he had himself a three-run homer--the kind of hit that can turn a slumping team around--but watched in exasperation as the ball died on the warning track, nestling into the glove of left fielder Conor Jackson.
Ramirez slammed his helmet to the ground. The Cubs were on their way to a 9-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, their fifth in six games. Their National League Central lead, which was 51/2 games on July 12, is down to one over the Milwaukee Brewers, whom they will play four times next week in Milwaukee.
"What can you do?" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We'll keep playing. Nobody feels sorry for us. We have to play our way out of these things."
Jason Marquis (6-6) left down 3-1 through six, but relievers Sean Marshall and Kevin Hart couldn't keep the Cubs close. Errors by Micah Hoffpauir and Derrek Lee hurt, but those details barely mattered with the Lou Crew going 1-for-8 with men in scoring position.
The Cubs are hitting .206 with 13 runs, nine walks and 35 strikeouts in five games since the All-Star break. They haven't had a multiple home run game since July 8.
Piniella has grasped at straws. He canceled batting practice on Tuesday, as he had before Sunday's 9-0 win in Houston, and pushed the slumping Mark DeRosa in front of Geovany Soto in his lineup. Expect a bigger change Wednesday.
Alfonso Soriano, who has missed six weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, is expected to be activated after a two-game rehabilitation assignment. Soriano played five innings in left field for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday night in Tucson, going 1-for-3 with an infield single.
"He probably needs more at-bats than what we're giving him,'' Piniella said. "It's been a long time. But what do we do? Leave him here?''
The Cubs won without Soriano when he was sidelined by a strain quadriceps earlier in the season but his latest absence has been timed poorly. It comes at the same time as declines in performance by several of the key hitters, most notably DeRosa and All-Stars Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome.
The Cubs were second in the NL with 4.9 runs per game in June, when their .279 batting average and .352 on-base percentage led the league.
After being shut out by Randy Johnson and relievers Micah Owings and Chad Qualls Monday, they were hitting .251 with a .317 on-base percentage in July. Those figures ranked 11th and 12th, respectively, in the NL.
Ramirez, who was 0-for-3 Tuesday, is hitting .163 with three homers and 11 RBIs in July. DeRosa is hitting .203 with one homer and Fukudome .200 with one.
Asked if his hitters are pressing, Piniella said, "I don't know why they should be; it's only July. I don't see why you should be pressing. We're just not hitting with men on base. When the middle of your lineup is not driving in runs it becomes a little bit of a scuffle."
Piniella, who said Jim Edmonds left the game with a sore knee, went out of his way to praise the recent hitting of Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot (who drove in a run with a fourth-inning triple off Petit) but left no doubt that Soriano has been badly missed.
"You lost a bat like that, it's going to hurt you, especially for six weeks,'' Piniella said. "Basically he's our biggest home run bat. Yeah, it's going to hurt. We were able to overcome it, to the [other] guys' credit, the way they've played. Sooner or later it starts showing up, and it has.''