Bad Timing

As the Cubs dropped their fourth game in a row and sixth in their last seven on Friday night, one watching may have asked his or herself just how long it would take the Cubs to score if the opposing team would up and leave the field altogether.

The Baby Bears lost 1-0 in 11 innings to a Padres team that has won six consecutive games. In their current four game skid, the Cubs have managed one run despite 27 hits and are now 14-14, back at .500 for the first time since the second game of the season.

Entering play Saturday, the Cubs have two hits in their last 29 at bats with runners in scoring position for a .069 average. They have stranded 30 runners since their nine-game road trip began on Wednesday in Arizona.

Furthermore, the Cubs have gone seven straight games without a home run, marking the longest stretch since April-May, 1999.

And Padres manager Bruce Bochy thought his team had been struggling at the plate.

"We're awful," Bochy had keenly observed prior to his team's recent winning streak. "This is the longest I've seen something like this go on. It's terrible. You have to be competitive."

The Cubs can painfully sympathize all too well in the post-Derrek Lee depression. While most of their woes stem from a lack of clutch hits, the team managed four hits as a whole in Friday's loss and just one through their first seven innings.

(Incidentally, a quick check around the minor leagues reveals that all four Cub affiliates have hit better collectively than the big league club's .248 average.)

The only encouraging news was that winless starter Carlos Zambrano turned in his finest outing to date this season.

Recently, manager Dusty Baker suggested Zambrano could be suffering from dead-arm symptoms after pitching in the World Baseball Classic and missing most of Spring Training.

"He possibly had to turn it on a little sooner than he wanted to," Baker acknowledged. "And who knows? He could be going through a dead-arm period like they go through in spring training."

For what good it did, Zambrano's arm was plenty lively against the Padres, a team he has still never lost to in his career. He tossed seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out 10. Zambrano has walked 28 batters in his first 40.2 innings.

"The World Baseball Classic was a good thing I think," Baker said. "But I've been looking around and I see guys like (Minnesota's Johan) Santana who have been struggling. Who's to know if that's the thing? It's so new and it's still an experiment. I can't say it was, but I can't dispute that it's a possibility."

Rookie starter Sean Marshall has a 1.41 ERA and 16 strikeouts over his last three starts. He looks to become the first Cub rookie starter to win his first three decisions since Frank Castillo in 1991 when he takes the hill Saturday. The Cubs are 5-0 in Marshall's starts this year.

Marshall will be opposed by Padres right-hander Jake Peavy. The game is scheduled for 9:05 p.m. (CDT) with broadcast coverage provided by WGN.

(Information from the Cubs' Media Relations Office was used in this report.)

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