After scoring five runs in six straight losses on the road, the Cubs totaled eight runs on Monday night against Pittsburgh. But it wasn't enough.
Freddy Sanchez had a career-high six hits, including a two-run homer, and three RBIs and Nate McLouth added a two-run homer to spark the Pirates to a 10-8 victory over the Cubs, who lost their eighth in a row.
"Well, we scored some runs but not enough," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Milton Bradley drove in four runs, including a pair on his fifth home run, and Ryan Theriot hit three doubles and drove in two runs for the Cubs, who have lost eight straight for the first time since dropping eight in a row from May 2-9, 2006. They're below .500 for the first time since April 30, when they were 10-11.
"We got some runs on the board," Bradley said. "We battled tonight, we fought, we didn't lay down. I think we took a lot better at-bats as a team, and worked the pitchers a bit and got some big hits. We came up short, but if we play like that, we'll win more than we lose."
Cubs starter Ryan Dempster struggled with his command over four innings, giving up seven hits and walking three, including back-to-back walks in the third with the bases loaded to help the Pirates take a 3-1 lead. He took his frustration out on the drink dispenser in the dugout, punching it with his left hand after the inning.
"It was frustrating," Dempster said of his outing. "It [stinks] because we hadn't been scoring runs, and the team went out and scored eight runs today, and I didn't do my job and I'm better than that.
"I let those guys down," Dempster said. "It would've been nice to break out with a win."
His jab did seem to wake up the Cubs. Bradley hit a two-run double in the third to tie the game at 3, and scored one out later on Geovany Soto's RBI single. The Pirates took a 6-4 lead on Sanchez's homer in the fourth, but Theriot answered with an RBI double in the Cubs fourth and then scored on Bradley's homer to go ahead, 7-6.
The lead changed hands again in the Pirates sixth as McLouth smacked a two-run homer off Neal Cotts (0-2) and Andy LaRoche hit an RBI double to go ahead, 9-7. Sanchez added an RBI single in the seventh.
"We've given Neal all the opportunities in the world," Piniella said of the lefty, who has a 7.36 ERA. "It's time, isn't it?"
"I just didn't make pitches tonight," Cotts said.
While the Cubs' offense sputtered during the road trip, the pitchers did their job, including a 2.45 ERA by the bullpen.
"We can't ask those guys to go out there and throw one-run ballgames every night," Theriot said. "It's unfair. It'll all go together at some point and hopefully we can get it on track."
The players are trying to maintain a positive attitude.
"Every team in the Major Leagues has a bad week, bad month," Alfonso Soriano said. "Everybody has some trouble during the season -- it's a long season, 162 games. We cannot be perfect. I just hope what happened last week does not happen again.
"I think when the team is doing bad, it's contagious," Soriano said. "I cannot be perfect 162 games. Whatever happened last week, there's nothing you can do about it."
Cubs fans expect perfection.
"That's different -- the fans don't play the game," Soriano said. "We can't, every at-bat, hit a home run or get a big hit, every pitch strike out every batter. We know we cannot be perfect. We play one week like champions, and one week, we play like the worst team in the league."
On Monday, there were encouraging signs, even if the end result was still a loss.
"If we can get through this thing here, it'll make us better as a team down the road -- that's the positive spin to it," Piniella said. "It's been challenging for us all year. We've had stretches where we've hit the ball well. But basically, the first 40 games or so, the first quarter of this year, it's been a challenge for us offensively."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.