By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune –
PITTSBURGH — It was five years ago this week that an exasperated Lou Piniella announced he had seen enough of his underachieving Cubs’ lineup.
“Maybe we’ll draw the darn thing out of a hat,” the Cubs’ manager fumed after a four-game losing streak dropped the Cubs seven games below .500.
Piniella never resorted to the old hat ploy, but his ‘07 club wound up winning the National League Central before flopping against the Diamondbacks in the playoffs.
Dale Sveum did his best Piniella impersonation before Friday’s 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh gave the Cubs their 10th straight defeat, moving Starlin Castro from the No. 3 hole to the No. 2 spot.
“It’s just a change to get everything going,” he said. “You never know. Sometimes you pick a lineup out of a hat and win. I wasn’t going to go that far. You can do that in the American League.”
How close is Sveum to doing that?
“Not too far,” he said.
Sveum’s current team is unlikely to follow the path of the ‘07 Cubs. They fell to 15-30 after their 10th straight setback, the team’s longest losing streak since setting an NL record with an 0-14 start to the 1997 season.
The Cubs are now on pace to lose a franchise-record 108 games.
Ryan Dempster’s luckless streak continued as well. He allowed only the one run over 81/3 innings, on a two-out single in the second inning.
But A.J. Burnett and the Pirates bullpen shut out the Cubs offense, which went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The Cubs have scored in only four of their last 56 innings.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Sveum said. “Kind of the same thing.”
Dempster (0-3) remains winless in his last 17 starts since he beat the Nationals on Aug. 11, 2011. While Dempster has a 2.14 ERA, the Cubs have scored only 12 runs with him on the mound in his eight starts.
“It’s hard for us,” he said. “Ten in a row is not a lot of fun. We have to fight through it.”
The last time Dempster pitched at PNC Park, last July, he wound up in a much-publicized shouting match with former manager Mike Quade on the top step of the dugout when he was removed after five innings. On Friday, Sveum let Dempster lead off the seventh with the Cubs trailing by a run, giving him a chance to get his first victory.
But Pirates reliever Jason Grilli struck out Dempster and the next two hitters. Dempster joked that “with my swing, as good as a hitter as I am, I’d keep me in there too.” Sveum said “it wasn’t the time” to lift Dempster.
“If we were down two (runs) it probably would be a little easier decision,” he said. “But just being down one, I think you have to leave him in there.”
The Pirates entered the night with a league-low .217 batting average and only 126 runs, by far the lowest total in the majors. But one run was enough to defeat the struggling Cubs.
“It grinds on you, it gets frustrating, no question about it,” Sveum said. “That’s human nature. Most of the time, it all turns around.”