CHICAGO -- He had a straight face. There was no laughing, no smiling, no sarcastic wink. Lou Piniella seemingly wasn't kidding around.
Some five hours before his lifeless Cubs lost 6-0 to the crosstown White Sox, falling a season-low two games under .500, the manager tried to put a positive spin on his team's 1-6 week by focusing on the one good thing he could think of: His team's impact on the economy.
"Sure, we went to Detroit, to Michigan and we lost three ballgames," Piniella said before the game. "But you know what? There were 40,000 people in the ballpark every day. It was great for the economy, it was great for the restaurants, it was great for the people who work at the ballpark. We lost baseball games, but it was great for the economy in general. Hey, look at what this city series does over here. There's 40,000 people here today.
"Let's look at it from a different standpoint than just a baseball standpoint."
Sure, Lou. Why not the journalism standpoint? Hundreds of journalists are plenty pleased that you've kept them employed by fielding a team that includes headline-grabbers like yourself, Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano. From Zambrano tossing out an umpire to your tussle with Bradley, this team is fantastic at selling newspapers, driving television ratings and increasing Internet hits.
Or what about the psychologist's standpoint? Beyond the psychological help a few members of your team should be getting, there's no question the Cubs' disappointing season has prompted a few fans to call on the help of a shrink to help them get over a nasty bout of depression.
Then there's the Gatorade standpoint. You can't forget all the free publicity your team has given the makers of the sports drink by building, destroying, rebuilding and re-destroying the Gatorade dispenser in the dugout at Wrigley Field.
And of course, don't forget the ecological standpoint. Those birds that hover around Wrigley Field after every home game are thrilled that some 40,000 fans leave behind their hot dog, pretzel and pizza scraps 81 times a year.
It's all better than talking about the actual baseball team, right? Because after the Cubs seemed to take two steps forward after last weekend's sweep of the Cleveland Indians, all they did this week was take two steps back by losing six of seven to Atlanta, Detroit and now the White Sox.
Sunday's loss to their crosstown rivals was one of the week's worst. The offense only managed six hits and Zambrano, the team's alleged ace, was touched for nine hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings. The defense dropped routine fly balls, the offense was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. And just like that, another day waiting for the Cubs to click is gone.
Because that's what we keep hearing, right? That it's only a matter of time? That this team is too good, too talented, not to turn the season around and return to its anointed perch atop the National League Central standings. As soon as a couple of guys start hitting, as soon as Aramis Ramirez returns from his separated shoulder, all will be well. Then they're going to start winning consistently. Then they're going to turn their season-high four-game winning streak into a nine- or ten-gamer.
Everyone is waiting, from Piniella to general manager Jim Hendry to the fans. Everyone except first baseman Derrek Lee, that is, who after Sunday's loss seems to be one of the few Cubs who understands time is running out. And helping the economy isn't quite going to put any trophies in the case come October.
"We need to get on a roll," Lee said after Sunday's loss. "It's not early anymore. We're two games under .500. [St. Louis and Milwaukee] aren't going to keep waiting around for us. We need to start playing well consistently starting right now."
The problems are bigger than the individual struggles of any one player. Sure, Bradley has one hit in his past 16 at-bats and hasn't driven in a run since June 12. Kosuke Fukudome hit .192 on the last road trip and is again giving grounds crews fits with his human corkscrew every time he swings and takes a miss.
But this is bigger than the struggles of Bradley, Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano or Geovany Soto. What about Carlos Marmol, arguably the pitching staff's most important weapon last season, who blew two saves this week and gave up two hits, three walks and two earned runs in another outing in which he still managed to earn a hold?
What about the little things? Like losing fly balls in the wind or cutting balls off in the gap to keep runners from taking an extra base? Even when the Cubs seemed to know what was coming on Sunday, they couldn't execute. Zambrano said he knew a suicide squeeze was coming in the sixth inning with Chris Getz on third and one out and he tried to nod to Soto to inform the catcher he was going to throw a pitchout. But Soto didn't pick up on the signal, the 90-mile-an-hour pitchout sailed to the backstop and Getz walked home. Afterward, like a well-trained politician, Zambrano repeated the party line.
"We have a good ballclub and we have Aramis [Ramirez] coming back soon and that's a big bat for us and we look forward to getting on a streak big time, maybe 8, 9, 10 games," he said. "The good thing about this is we're still three, four games out. We're still there. We have to keep competing."
Yet for everything that has gone wrong this season, for every game the team has lost and every excuse they've offered, a shot at redemption presents itself in the next two weeks when Milwaukee and St. Louis come to Wrigley Field to close out the first half of the season.
Win both series and Cubs fans might have something to get excited about. Lose both and Piniella might have another standpoint he can brag that his team has helped: The marriage standpoint. After all, if his team continues to lose, there are several husbands who will probably turn the Cubs off for the rest of the season and spend a few more minutes with their family.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@ESPN3.com.