Cubs' offense showing its inexperience

CHICAGO – After a kick in the pants from the Washington Nationals turned the Cubs’ offense into something of a dynamic force, the lean times appear to have returned.

For the second consecutive night the Cubs struggled for offense, needing a pinch-hit RBI double from Bryan LaHair to end a 16-inning scoreless streak over the past two games. The night ended in a 3-1 series-opening defeat to the Cincinnati Reds, who lowered their magic number to clinch the National League Central to four.

Substandard offensively for most of the season, the Cubs have sprung to life this month with a lineup that features mostly kids, backed by veteran Alfonso Soriano.

The fun started after a humbling four-game sweep at Washington to the Nationals. The Cubs limped out of the nation’s capital, went to Pittsburgh then Houston and back home to face the Pirates again while somehow swinging with more confidence.

Before Tuesday, the Cubs had a .278 team batting average with a .357 on-base percentage over the past 10 games. They had also averaged 5.5 runs per game in that same stretch.

On Sunday alone, the Cubs buried the wild-card contending Pirates with 13 runs on 15 hits as Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs, including a go-ahead grand slam.

Perhaps Monday’s long rain delay also washed away the team’s confidence. The Cubs had just two hits while being shut out in the series finale against the Pirates and took just two hits into the eighth inning Tuesday before LaHair’s RBI.

“Besides (Darwin) Barney there haven’t been a whole lot of balls squared up,” manager Dale Sveum said. “After swinging the bats really well the first few days against Pittsburgh, (Monday) night and (Tuesday) have been kind of discouraging because we thought we had everybody swinging the bats at the same time. We’re going backward right now.”

Barney delivered two of the Cubs’ four hits Tuesday and in the process he extended his hitting streak to 13 games, longest on the Cubs this season and longest of his career. Barney is batting .409 (18-for-44) during the streak and has four of the Cubs’ past six hits.