Slumping Cubs face changes

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs just fired their hitting coach, and now, more changes are waiting on deck.

Tired of watching his team flail away at the plate, manager Lou Piniella is ready to "make some tough decisions" after a 4-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. That means a makeover is in order for his lineup. Or least a tweak or two.

Hear that, Alfonso Soriano?

"He has to do something because we're doing nothing offensively," he said.

Piniella has some sympathy from Milton Bradley. He'd prefer more hits and runs.

"I feel for Lou because he's doing all he can do," Bradley said. "All he can do is write the lineup. ... He shouldn't have to go through what he's going through."

At the moment, that would be frustration. A heavy dose of it.

The Cubs are batting .244 this season and have been particularly bad of late. How bad?

They've scored zero or one run in 10 of the last 26 games while falling from 21-14 to 30-31. They've stranded 67 runners over the last eight games, including two on Wednesday, and are 14 for 75 (.187) with runners in scoring position over that span.

These are the the two-time defending NL Central champions?

"They've got a good ballclub," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "All respect for St. Louis, Milwaukee, all those teams, the Cubs are going to be in the pennant race. People in Chicago, relax. Quit panicking. Worry about something else. Worry about the family, kids going back to school and having good grades. Don't worry about the Cubs. They'll be fine."

Well, their general manager and manager are concerned. So are the players. And no one can really explain it.

General manager Jim Hendry fired hitting coach Gerald Perry on Sunday and now, Piniella is targeting his lineup, although he didn't specify what changes might be coming. Dropping the struggling Soriano from the top of the order could be an option, although he's not the only underachiever. The lineup is filled with players who have successful track records, which makes this even more perplexing.

"For the most part, they are proven hitters," Piniella said.

They're just not, um, hitting.

"We've got a lot of good hitters," Soriano said. "I don't know what's going on. I don't know if there's a lot of pressure in this clubhouse or what, but what I see is not fun."

Bradley, their main offseason acquisition, is batting .234 but appears to be coming around. He has raised his average more than 100 points over the last 30 games, but NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto appears stuck, while Kosuke Fukudome is in another big slide. Soto is batting .217, and Fukudome is at .266 after a 3-for-36 skid that's bringing back memories of his freefall last season.

Then, there's Soriano.

Despite a less-than-steady glove and a rather low on-base percentage (.296) for a leadoff hitter, he can carry the team when he's hot. This season, he's been as cold as a Chicago winter.

Soriano has just 14 hits in his last 99 at-bats after going 0 for 4 Wednesday and is batting just .225. Piniella even lifted Soriano in the top of the ninth with a double switch, something he's been reluctant to do in the past.

Injuries have slowed Soriano during his 2 seasons in Chicago, the most recent being a sore left knee, but he insisted he's fine. He doesn't want any rest, something Piniella said he might get a few weeks ago.

If Piniella decides to drop him in the order, Soriano said that's fine.

"I don't like days off," Soriano said. "If he dropped me in the lineup, that's part of the game. He's the manager and he knows what he has to do."

He needs to find an answer. So do his players.