Cubs manager Dale Sveum trotted out what could charitably be described as a "Sunday lineup" for Wednesday's game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Sveum sat regulars Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Junior Lake against tough right-hander Bronson Arroyo, figuring that Thursday's off-day in the schedule would have everybody rested and ready for the Cardinals this weekend.
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Truth be told, it probably made little difference who played, the way everybody on the Cubs has been going lately.
Arroyo and the Reds bullpen held the Cubs to just 2 hits in a 5-0 shutout. The Cubs have been shut out in four of their last five games at Wrigley Field, and they've fallen to a season-worst 16 games under .500 at 52-68.
"Do I have enough bullets?" Sveum asked in response to a postgame question. "This is all I got. I don't have seven or eight lefties that I can put in there, with (Ryan) Sweeney and (Luis) Valbuena and those guys down."
Sveum was talking about a couple of the Cubs' injured players. So against Arroyo, he started Darnell McDonald in left field, Donnie Murphy at shortstop, Logan Watkins at second base and Cody Ransom at third.
The lineup produced singles by McDonald and David DeJesus and nothing else, not even a walk. The Cubs have been shut out 10 times this year, and five times since they traded slugging left fielder Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees on July 26. They've also dropped 11 of their last 12 games at Wrigley Field.
The key players left aren't picking up the slack. Both Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo have been slumping since the all-star break, with Castro hitting a non-impacting .250 since then and Rizzo at .204. Rizzo did hit a couple of balls hard Wednesday, but both were caught.
"Our guys are getting opportunities to step up and take advantage of it," Rizzo said when asked about carrying the load with Soriano gone. "That's something that not only (I) want to do but other guys on this team, especially guys that haven't been here all year. I think it's time we all step up as a team together and start supporting our starting (pitching) staff."
With both Castro and Rizzo, Sveum said it's been a matter of not being able to handle the fastball.
"You've got to be able to hit the fastball, that's the bottom line," Sveum said. "I'll say that to the day I die. If you can't hit the fastball, you're going to struggle in this league. The bottom line is laying off the breaking ball. The bottom line is hitting the fastball. That's where it all starts. It's been around for 100 years. If you can't hit the fastball, you can't play in the big leagues."
The Cubs got another quality start from lefty Chris Rusin, who fell to 2-2 with a 3.06 ERA in his sixth start this season. He gave up a solo homer to Todd Frazier in the first inning and an RBI double to Ryan Hanigan in the fifth. Carlos Villanueva came out of the bullpen and gave up the final 3 runs.
Rusin may be pitching himself into consideration for a job next year.
"I don't even think about players could be coming up or what my role is next year or anything," Rusin said. "I just go game to game and go from there. That's what helps me, because if I put too much pressure on myself, that's when you start making mistakes and trying to be too perfect."