Z Problems Continue in Houston

Game Ninety-Seven – Cubs 1 Astros 4
WP – Wandy Rodriguez (5-3) LP – Carlos Zambrano (10-4) Save – Jose Valverde (25)

Lou Piniella’s crew has started the second half of the season the same way they began the year….with back-to-back losses to a division rival. The Cubs dropped the first two games of the year to the Brewers with a less than stellar performance from their offense and have duplicated the performance the last two days in Houston. The Cubs managed only 1 run for the second night in a row, but this time the solo home run came from their pitcher, Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano hit his second home run of the year into the stands just beyond the right field wall in the 7th inning that broke up the shutout.

Carlos Zambrano set a new franchise mark for home runs by a pitcher in the loss. Big Z’s 14th career home run surpassed the previous mark of 13 held by Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins.

On the mound was a different story for Zambrano. He struggled with his command and gave up as many hits as walks. Two of Zambrano’s six free passes came around to score and the Astros’ second run of the game was scored by Wandy Rodriguez after he led off the 3rd inning with a single to right center….just his third hit of the season.

Zambrano not only struggled with his command but he fought with himself as well. Following the game Lou Piniella mentioned Zambrano must find a way to harness his emotions on the mound. All teams need a pitcher the caliber of Carlos Zambrano and once he is able to focus his energy and be a consistent force when he takes the mound, the sky is the limit for Big Z.

The Cubs dropped their third straight game, dating back to last Sunday, and with the loss are 8 games under .500 on the road at 20-28.

To say the Cubs offense is slow coming back from the break would be an understatement. Of the nine hits recorded on Saturday night, three were by Ryan Theriot (extended his hitting streak to 12 games) and one was by Carlos Zambrano….that leaves only five other hits and for one of the few times this season they did not take a walk. If the offense is trying to get back in the swing of things following the break, they could take a few more pitches first.

The offense had chances on several occasions to push home a couple of runs but could not come up with the clutch hit when they needed it. After a 0-for-12 performance from Fukudome, Lee and Ramirez on Friday night, the heart of the Cubs lineup on Saturday (Lee, Ramirez and Soto) went a combined 1-for-12 with 7 left on base….that is a recipe for a loss itself.

The Astros’ first run came after a leadoff walk by Carlos Lee in the 2nd inning. Miguel Tejada blooped a single into right and Lee advanced to 3rd. Hunter Pence grounded out to short for the first out of the inning, Lee scored….1-0 Astros.

Wandy Rodriguez led off the 3rd with a single to right center that fell between Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome….there appeared to be a communication problem. Kaz Matsui grounded out to 1st, Rodriguez advanced to 2nd and after Zambrano struck out Darin Erstad, he walked Lance Berkman with 2 outs. Carlos Lee stepped in and singled to left, Rodriguez scored and Tejada followed with a single to right center that plated Berkman with the Astros’ third run.

Zambrano settled down after pitching around 2 more walks in the 4th and retired the Astros in order in the 5th and 6th innings. David Newhan led off the bottom of the 7th with a triple to center. Zambrano walked Kaz Matsui on a questionable 3-2 pitch. Darin Erstad followed with a ground out to 2nd that Ronny Cedeno bobbled….the only play was the sure out at 1st and Newhan scored the final run of the night of the Astros.

After an infield single to the hole at short by Lance Berkman, Piniella made the slow walk and lifted Zambrano for Chad Gaudin. Gaudin retired Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada to end the inning….and struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced in the 8th.

The Chicago Cubs were flat in the first two games in Houston and one can only imagine the “pep talk” Piniella had with his team following Saturday night’s loss.

Ryan Dempster is scheduled to face Brandon Backe in the finale of the 3-game series on Sunday afternoon….

Quote of the Day

"Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings." - Salvador Dali
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