Marlins 6, Cubs 4
MIAMI (AP) -- Swept by lowly Florida, the Chicago Cubs shambled out of town Thursday with this consolation: If they make the playoffs, they won't have to face the Marlins again.
The problem is Chicago may not make the playoffs.
Struggling to avert another Cubs collapse, the NL Central leaders stranded 10 runners and lost to the last-place Marlins for the third game in a row, 6-4.
"It was a waste of a plane flight," Cubs closer Ryan Dempster said.
"You can look in their dugout, and it's just like panic mode," said Florida's Cody Ross, who drove in a run with a pinch-hit double. "They're pacing up and down. We would be in the same boat if the situation were reversed."
Chicago remained two games ahead of second-place Milwaukee, which lost 9-5 to San Diego.
"We're still in the driver's seat," manager Lou Piniella said. "We've just got to start winning some games."
The Cubs' magic number for clinching the division fell to two. They close the regular season with a three-game series at Cincinnati beginning Friday, with Carlos Zambrano starting for Chicago.
"We've got the right guy on the mound," Dempster said. "Believe it or not, as bad as this was, we're still confident in ourselves."
Against Florida, not so much. The Marlins beat the Cubs for the 10th straight game over the past two seasons -- the longest active streak between major-league teams.
"These guys have our number," Chicago first baseman Derrek Lee said. "They came out and flat-out beat us. We didn't envision a sweep."
Following Wednesday's game, Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa acknowledged his team might be pressing. Piniella, mindful that the franchise has a history of folding, invited comedian and Cubs superfan Bill Murray to hang out behind the batting cage before Thursday's game.
It didn't help. But the Cubs denied team tradition is working against them.
"We're not worried about history," Lee said. "I understand the history, but we weren't there. I promise, when we're in between the lines, we're not thinking about the history of the Cubs."
Piniella, who contends there's no Cubs curse, blamed the latest loss on squandered opportunities. In the series, Chicago went 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position.
"I didn't think we were tight," Piniella said. "A couple of players are a little out of the norm of the entire season. Maybe they're tired. Other than that, I thought we played nice and loose."
Meanwhile, Florida played like the 2003 Marlins, who overtook the Cubs to win the NL Championship Series en route to a World Series title.
And even when the Marlins tried to help the Cubs, it wasn't enough.
Florida led 5-1 before a throwing error by third baseman Miguel Cabrera in the sixth inning let Chicago back in the game. With the Marlins leading by a run, Florida reliever Renyel Pinto came on to walk consecutive batters, loading the bases in the seventh, but Jacque Jones struck out to end the inning.
For the third straight game, Chicago failed to score on the Florida bullpen. Ryan Theriot hit into a double play against Lee Gardner to end the eighth, and closer Kevin Gregg needed only eight pitches in a perfect ninth for his 31st save in 35 chances.
The appearance was the first in a week for Gregg, who has been nursing a sore forearm.
Bad luck was also part of the Cubs' trouble: Cabrera's opposite-field liner landed on the right-field foul line for an RBI double in the fifth to put Florida ahead 5-1.
Steve Trachsel (1-3), making his first start in two weeks, lasted only 4 1/3 innings and allowed five runs. Kerry Wood came on to pitch out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth to keep the Cubs within a run.
Scott Olsen (10-15) gave up a run in the first and then shut down Chicago until Cabrera's error in the sixth. Olsen gave up four runs, two earned, in 5 1/3 innings and won for the first time since Aug. 5.
The final home game for attendance-challenged Florida drew 24,809 fans. Most cheered for the Cubs.
"When you've got a lot of their fans in your home ballpark," Marlins reliever Justin Miller said, "you want to go out and shut them up."
Cubs catcher Jason Kendall, who started for the first time in eight days Wednesday, was back on the bench Thursday, with rookie Geovany Soto starting. ... Until his RBI double, Alfonso Soriano was 1-for-11 in the series with six strikeouts.