By Paul Sullivan
Tribune staff reporter
8:30 PM PDT, May 26, 2005
This was supposed to be the week the Cubs cleaned up on bottom-feeding Houston and Colorado, a couple of teams with a combined .146 winning percentage (7-41) on the road.
Greg Maddux took a career record against the Astros of 25-10 into their matchup Wednesday, and Carlos Zambrano was facing a Rockies team Thursday batting .179 on this trip and hitless in 29 consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position.
But in a maddening 24-hour stretch, the Cubs lost to both road-kill magnets, leaving them 8½ games behind division-leading St. Louis.
"Right now we're just not a very good team," second baseman Todd Walker said. "That's the bottom line."
Colorado right-hander Jason Jennings, who came in tied for the league lead in losses (six) while sporting a 7.05 earned-run average with 6.4 walks per nine innings, limited the Cubs to one run on seven hits and two walks over seven innings.
"Before the game, nobody gave us a chance to win," Jennings said. "We are struggling, we are awful on the road, we are facing Zambrano, so to overcome that and play a good game all around felt good."
In beating Zambrano (3-3), Jennings threw only 61 pitches through his first six and didn't run into real trouble until he gave up a hit and a walk to start the eighth with a 4-1 lead. The Cubs were very impatient, seldom taking pitches, even in the early innings.
After Jennings left with two on and no outs in the eighth, reliever Jay Witasik entered and induced Derrek Lee to pop out on his first pitch, a ball out of the zone. Baker doesn't mind his players swinging at the first pitch, under one condition.
"As long as it's a strike," he said. "It wasn't a strike. It's mostly about pitch selection."
Witasik then retired Jeromy Burnitz on a groundout that advanced both runners, where they were stranded on Aramis Ramirez's groundout to first.
The Cubs are tied for 13th in the National League in runs scored, 13th in on-base percentage and last in walks.
"The guy on the other side had a 7.00 ERA," Baker said, referring to Jennings. "We made him look good by swinging at a number of balls. He's prone to the walk. We're not being patient.
"Everybody is trying too hard to be the one to help us score runs. It's counterproductive."
Todd Hollandsworth maintained the Cubs' over-aggressiveness "shows these guys care" about their jobs.
"We're trying to create offense," Hollandsworth said. "We're just trying too hard."
Baker inserted Neifi Perez into the leadoff spot for the first time, with Walker batting second. But the move did nothing to awaken the comatose Cubs lineup. The Cubs are hitting .242 in May and averaging 3.2 runs per game, going 9-13.
"You just have to come up with a better game plan per pitcher as to how they're going to approach each pitcher," Baker said.
Zambrano's two-out walk to Clint Barmes in the third led to Desi Relaford's RBI double for a 1-0 lead. After Walker's run-scoring single in the third tied it, Colorado scored a pair in the fifth on an infield hit, a sacrifice by Jennings, and RBI singles by Barmes and Preston Wilson.
Wilson and Todd Greene homered off the bullpen as the Rockies pulled away in the final innings. The ballpark was eerily silent most of the game, with a lack of offense creating a noticeable lack of energy in the stands.
"The [previous] three days there has been energy, because we were winning," Walker said. "If you win, there will be energy. If you don't, there won't."
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