HOUSTON—Lou Piniella knew it couldn't last forever, that sooner or later the Cubs would come back to earth.
After winning 19 of 24 games through July 20, they suddenly have gone ice-cold.
"You're going to cool off, yeah," Piniella said. "But we need to start swinging the bats better. That's what we need to be doing. I am a little concerned with our offense. I'd be lying if I didn't say I was."
After the Cubs dropped a 5-2 game to Houston on Tuesday for their fifth loss in six games, there was no need to sugarcoat things.
Tuesday was a carbon copy of Monday's loss. They went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and struck out 13 times for the second straight night. They finished with six hits, after garnering five on Monday in their first game since Alfonso Soriano's quad injury.
"Everyone has to do their part," Piniella said. "I don't think anyone is being asked to carry any more of the load than what they can carry."
The Cubs have lost three straight for the first time since a six-game losing streak from May 27-June 2. Since July 21st, they are 7-10.
"Any time you lose a guy like [Soriano] it's going to affect your team, even if it doesn't affect you on the field," Kerry Wood said. "You can't help but think about it, but we have plenty of guys here who know how to play the game and have been through situations like this before.
"Injuries are part of the game, and you hate to see 'em, especially when it's a guy like that who is that important to your lineup. Hopefully we'll get him back as soon as possible, but that's why it's a team. The rest of us have to pick up the slack."
Left-hander Sean Marshall did his job, but left trailing 3-1 in the sixth before Wood allowed both of his inherited runners to score.
"We need to put some runs on the board," Piniella said. "And all these other little problems that we're having can take care of themselves."
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first on Cliff Floyd's bases-loaded walk, but failed to do any more damage against Woody Williams.
"That's an inning that if you're swinging the bats, you put three or four on the board and take a nice lead," Piniella said. "We left some people on early in the game, and that was it."
The Astros tied it on Jason Lane's homer in the second, then scored four in the sixth off Marshall and Wood. Matt Murton's shot in the seventh provided the only other Cubs' run.
"We haven't hit too many balls out of the ballpark," Piniella said. "We need to get these people in when we have opportunities, like we [had opportunities Monday], and take advantage of those."
The lack of home runs wasn't a problem when the Cubs were winning. But they are now ranked 13th in the league in that category, and it's starting to grate on Piniella.
Excluding Eric Patterson, who made his first major-league start, five of the other seven starting position players have not homered since June.
Jason Kendall has no home runs since June 30, when he played for Oakland, and only two for the year. Jacque Jones has none since June 1, and only two overall. Cliff Floyd has none since June 26, and only four for the year. Mark DeRosa has none since June 27, after hitting four in April. Mike Fontenot has none since June 27, and three overall.
"We're in a little bit of a rough spell right now, and we have to work ourselves out of it," Piniella said. "I'm confident we will, but seeing it is better than talking about it."