"This game here was a nice little synopsis of what our season has been like," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said after a 2-0 loss Wednesday to the pesky Pirates.
Garrett Jones hit a RBI double with one out in the eighth inning to lift the Pirates to victory, their ninth in 12 games against the Cubs this season. Pittsburgh is 8-16 against the rest of the National League Central.
"It happens in baseball," Tom Gorzelanny said of his former team's success against the Cubs. "I think that's why baseball is one of those trickier games than football or basketball.
"I know we're a better team than they are. It's one of those things where it's not working. They've had our number this year. It's hard. It's hard to see that every time. We've just got to find a way."
At the beginning of the season, it didn't seem as if the Pittsburgh series would be the toughest for Chicago. There are three games remaining between the two, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.
"They're a good club," Pirates manager John Russell said of the Cubs. "They haven't been swinging the bats like they are capable of. We'll take it. We've played them tough. We've found a way to win against these guys."
The Cubs have had to play perfect ball because of their offensive struggles. And they didn't in the Pirates' eighth. Andy LaRoche was safe on third baseman Aramis Ramirez's fielding error as he couldn't get a grip on the ball. LaRoche advanced on Andrew McCutchen's single off Andrew Cashner (0-3) and scored on Jones' double off the wall in left-center.
Ryan Doumit was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Cashner was lifted for Sean Marshall. One out later, Lastings Milledge drew a walk to force in a run.
Brad Lincoln (1-2) picked up his first Major League win in his fifth start, giving up four hits over seven innings. He was aided by a strong northeasterly wind that knocked down potential home runs by Alfonso Soriano in the fifth and Derrek Lee in the ninth.
"It's not like we're not giving an effort, or we're playing dumb baseball," Chicago catcher Koyie Hill said. "I could see if we were taking crazy swings and everybody was up there trying to hit a homer, but that's not the case."
Chicago was trying to win consecutive games for the first time since June 16-17.
Gorzelanny started for the Cubs in place of Carlos Zambrano, who was in New York to begin evaluation and treatment for anger issues. This was Gorzelanny's first start since May 26, when he was roughed up by the Dodgers. The lefty had made six relief appearances since then.
The plan was to have him go five innings or 75-80 pitches, and he was lifted after throwing 77 over five scoreless innings, giving up four hits and three walks. It should've been good enough.
The Cubs had the leadoff man on base in five innings. The best threat came in the fifth as Ramirez singled and reached third two outs later on Starlin Castro's double. But Lincoln struck out pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin to end the inning. The Cubs have scored three or fewer runs in nine of their last 10 games, including one run or fewer in six of those games.
They remain positive.
"Things are going to turn," Gorzelanny said. "This team is way too good to be playing like we have recently. There's no reason to think it'll only get worse, because it can only get better from here."
The Cincinnati Reds come into town now for a four-game series. It will be a tough test.
"We definitely feel like we're capable of more," Hill said. "I could see if we were disinterested. I could see if we were trying to do things we shouldn't be doing. But I don't think that's the case. It's not a lack of effort or lack of focus, and I don't think it's a lack of wanting to be in that position."
They need to at least split against the Reds.
"If we have a good two weeks, we're right there," Soriano said. "It'll be ugly if we lose three games against them."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.