Piniella calls for consistent offense
Manager wants hitters to step up as second half begins
CHICAGO -- The Cubs' game Wednesday was No. 82 on the schedule, which marks the start of the second half. Manager Lou Piniella's goal for the next 81 games is the same as the first.
"The goal is to win the division," Piniella said. "That's our goal. There's no other goal. No other goal whatsoever."
To do that and three-peat as National League Central champs, the Cubs need to get the offense going more consistently.
"We've got to hit," Piniella said. "Fifteenth in the league in runs scored is not going to get it done, period. We can mask this any way we want to mask it, but we have to start scoring more runs consistently to win baseball games. We hit the ball, we continue to pitch, we'll be just fine. If we don't, it'll be a struggle."
The Cubs appeared to shake their offensive doldrums in the four-game series against the Brewers, posting a 9-5 win on Thursday and an 8-2 win on Sunday. But games like those have been few and far between. Jake Fox (.310) and Aramis Ramirez (.351) were the only .300 hitters in the Cubs' lineup on Wednesday against the Braves, and Ramirez was playing his third game since missing two months because of a left shoulder injury.
On Tuesday, the Cubs couldn't muster much against Atlanta's Javier Vazquez and lost, 2-1.
"It's not the game yesterday, it's over the course of 81 games -- we're 15th in the league in runs scored," Piniella said. "It's very difficult to do unless you're getting a lot of shutouts from your pitching staff, and that's something very difficult to do, too. You have to score more runs more consistently if you want to win. That's not only the Chicago Cubs, that's the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals or any other team you want to name.
"You've got to score runs if you want to win with any consistency," he said. "We've talked many times in the three years I've been here about five runs being the benchmark if you want to win with consistency. We've played 81 games -- you multiply five times 81 and that's over 400 runs. We're quite short of it."
The Cubs have scored 337 runs, an average of 4.2 per game, entering Wednesday. What's been tough for Piniella -- and Cubs fans, too -- to understand is why Milton Bradley is batting .241 after hitting .321 last year, or why Alfonso Soriano has skidded to .230. Geovany Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, also was hitting .230.
Losing Ramirez for two months certainly had an effect on the lineup. But opposing teams don't have to be too careful against the Cubs, who were batting .224 with runners in scoring position entering Wednesday's game. There was some turnover in the lineup, but not enough that Piniella expected this kind of dropoff.
"I don't think anybody could've expected it," Piniella said.
There's 81 games to go.
"It's a long season and that's why you play 162 games," Piniella said. "But the fact remains that for us to have good success, we're going to have to score more runs in the second half than we did in the first half. That's it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.