There isn't much margin for error. In the last 10 days, the Cubs have faced the top teams in the Central Division -- the Reds and Cardinals -- and the second-place West team, the Giants. What's next? The top team in the West, the Padres.
"It's just a learning experience," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said of the pair, two of five rookies in the Cubs bullpen. "They're learning on the job a little bit and that's tough. [The Padres] are good, real good.
"There's not much wiggle room there," Hill said. "To their credit, they keep their heads up and come back with confidence. Nobody's given up on them, that's for sure. I guarantee they'll be good ones and better for it. We're asking an awful lot of them."
Kevin Correia threw six shutout innings and hit an RBI double and Miguel Tejada and Chris Denorfia each drove in two runs to lead the Padres to the win and open a four-game lead over the idle Giants. Meanwhile, the Cubs dropped to 3-8 in this 17-game stretch against top teams.
"We put so many high hopes on our team in spring and before spring," said Gorzelanny, who took the loss. "This is not what we expected from this team. It's an unfortunate year and there's still a lot of baseball to be played. The rest of this season can go a long way towards next."
Hill feels the same way regarding the kid pitchers.
"One of my priorities this last month or so," Hill said, "has been working with them more closely and talking more in the outfield and after games and before games and what things mean and what we're trying to do. It's just a matter of time. I think these guys have good ability. Sometimes you have to get drug through the mud a little bit."
Take the Padres' eighth inning, for example. Cashner, the Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick in 2008, gave up a single to Denorfia, a double to pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn, and got the next batter to ground out. But a run scored on a wild pitch and Tejada hit an RBI single to open a 7-2 lead.
Tejada is batting .429 in his last eight games.
"The first time ... maybe I tried too much," Tejada said about how he pressed after being traded from the Orioles to the Padres on July 29. "Now I'm just getting good pitches to hit, not trying to hit them out. Now I just feel more comfortable."
Cashner, to his credit, struck out both Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Ludwick to end the inning.
"It's definitely there," Hill said of the ability. "The biggest difference between the Minor Leagues and big leagues is consistency and execution and that will come. It's no different than with a young hitter who learns how to hit first and the power will come. I think all these experiences will be good for them in the long run."
Gorzelanny (6-7) gave up five runs on nine hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings. It's the seventh straight start the lefty has gone at least six innings, closing in on his career-high 10-game stretch set in 2007 with the Pirates. He began this season fighting for a spot in the rotation.
"Whatever happens, happens" Gorzelanny said. "I feel I've done a pretty good job this year. I've gone out there and pitched every fifth day and done what they've asked of me and felt like I've been successful this year."
The Cubs, who were without their hottest hitter, Derrek Lee, sidelined at least two days with a sore lower back, didn't score until Kosuke Fukudome's two-run double with two outs in the seventh off lefty Joe Thatcher. They added three in the eighth on Alfonso Soriano's RBI double and Blake DeWitt's two-run homer off Ernesto Frieri.
Correia (10-7) helped himself in the Padres fifth. With two outs, Denorfia singled and scored on Correia's double to left, his first extra-base hit of the season.
"I felt the only bad pitch I threw tonight was the one I threw to the pitcher," Gorzelanny said. "Guys made swings and balls fell in and there's nothing you can do about it."
The Cubs had chances, beginning in the first when they loaded the bases on an opposite field single by Fukudome, a double by Darwin Barney -- his first Major League hit -- and a two-out walk to Xavier Nady. But Correia got Soriano to fly out and end the inning.
The Padres are thinking October. The Cubs are looking ahead to next year.
"The focus has changed to take positive steps to the future," Hill said. "Yeah, the playoffs are out of sight but we still have something to play for."