Unsolved mystery: Offense an enigma
Harden impresses in return from DL, but Cubs shut out
CHICAGO -- Lou Piniella is puzzled. So are his players.
The offense is in a funk, and nobody has an answer.
Jason Kubel hit his second homer in as many games Saturday to back rookie Anthony Swarzak and spoil Rich Harden's return, lifting the Minnesota Twins to a 2-0 victory over the Cubs.
It's the 13th time in the last 23 games the Cubs have scored two runs or fewer.
"The only answer is to go out there and hit," said Derrek Lee, who is one of the few making good contact and now riding a 12-game hitting streak. "There's no answers or talking about it. We just have to get it done on the field."
It's not for lack of effort.
"Hitting is one of those things -- sometimes you're playing bad, making errors, baserunning mistakes, but we're not doing that," Lee said. "We're just not hitting. You can try too hard. Hitting is almost the opposite. You really have to relax, and the more at-bats you go without a hit, the more you press. We have to find a way to settle down."
Swarzak (2-2) apparently likes facing National League hitters. He threw seven scoreless innings in his first start this season against Milwaukee on May 23 and did the same Saturday, striking out six for the win in his fifth Major League start.
Harden (4-3), wearing short-sleeves on an unseasonably cool 54-degree day, was making his first start since going on the disabled list May 18 with a back strain. The right-hander fanned nine and gave up five hits and walked two over six innings, and didn't get any run support. That's been a recurring refrain. Cubs starters have gone at least six innings in nine of their last 10 games, and 13 of the last 14.
"We've pitched really good," Lee said. "We've played good overall baseball except when we get in the batter's box."
"It's not good baseball and it's not fun to watch," Harden said. "Hopefully, we'll figure it out here soon. Usually when guys are in slumps, there are guys who step in and take over. Hopefully, we can get through this soon. That's all you can hope for."
In the fourth, the Cubs had runners at first and second with one out. But Swarzak got Geovany Soto to fly out and struck out Kosuke Fukudome. Milton Bradley drew a walk to lead off the ninth against Joe Nathan, and advanced on Lee's single that third baseman Joe Crede deflected. They say it's a game of inches -- if Crede doesn't tip that ball, maybe Bradley gets to third, Lee to second, and it's a different ballgame.
Pinch-hitter Andres Blanco bunted to move both runners up, but Nathan struck out Fukudome and got Ryan Theriot to fly out for his 15th save.
"It's been such a long, prolonged slump," Lee said. "We have guys with good track records and we're not living up to them right now."
How frustrating is the lack of offense?
"I don't even want to talk about it," Piniella said.
He's changed the lineup. Piniella's attitude now is to let them play and work out of this skid.
"I wish I had a magic formula for it," he said. "I don't. I really don't."
"I've never seen anything like we see right now," Chicago's Alfonso Soriano said. "We are a very good hitting team. I don't know what's happening, but it doesn't look good."
Last year, the Cubs led the National League in runs scored. This season, they rank 13th. It can't be solely because Aramis Ramirez is out of the lineup.
"You never want to make excuses," Theriot said. "When you're scoring runs and getting hits, it seems like it's easy. When you're not, it makes it a little more difficult and you feel like everything's close. We're definitely not swinging the bats like we're capable of.
"You can't take anything away from the two starters we've seen the last two days," Theriot said of Kevin Slowey and Swarzak. "They've located their breaking balls early in the count for strikes, as well as late in the count, which always makes it more difficult. We didn't capitalize on it."
The Twins got all the runs they needed in the second when Kubel led off with his 11th homer, launching a 1-1 pitch from Harden over the right-field seats and onto Sheffield Avenue. The Twins made it 2-0 in the third when Nick Punto singled, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored two outs later on Joe Mauer's single, prompting a huge roar from the Twins fans in the crowd of 40,899.
"Today, we didn't have a big hit," Soriano said. "It's not happening. I don't know what's going on, but we're not playing like we're supposed to play."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.