The Cubs were dreadful against left-handed starters last season. A .500 record against them would have kept them in the playoff hunt until the season's final day. Instead they went 14-22.
The Cubs addressed the problem when they signed Moises Alou, who led the National League in 2001 with a .424 average against left-handers.
But Alou was of no help Friday in the Cubs' frustrating 2-1 loss to the Pirates. While lefty Dave Williams baffled them with his changeup, Alou could do nothing but watch from the dugout after having been placed on the disabled list with a strained right calf.
"When you have a hitter of his caliber, he's missed a lot," Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "We're not getting good swings against left-handed pitching."
The Cubs have outscored their opponents 16-13 this season, but that hardly matters. This isn't cricket, where the matches last for days.
What does count is their 1-3 record against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the supposed weakest links of the NL Central.
"We beat these teams last year," said Baylor, "so it's disappointing. But we know what the cause is, our lack of clutch hitting. We think that will turn."
It's hard to imagine it getting much worse. The Cubs continue to lead the league in that most unpleasant of statisticsrunners left on base.
They stranded eight men Friday, leaving the 40,155 fans who braved snow flurries bitter in more ways than one.
"Cold, cold, cold," Delino DeShields described Friday's home opener, and he wasn't referring to his team's bats.
The Cubs' only run came on Sammy Sosa's controversial homer to right in the sixth inning.
After Sosa ripped Williams' 1-0 offering the opposite way, the ball bounced back on the field. First-base umpire Larry Young originally ruled that the ball hit the basket that separates the field from the bleachers.
But Baylor argued successfully that the ball actually hit a wall beyond the basket before bouncing back. Young reversed his decision and awarded Sosa his third homer in four games.
Young's explanation was confusing. "It's inconclusive," he said. "It looked like it touched the other side of the net, but I don't think it hit the back wall."
Perhaps Young gave Baylor a break because of the manager's forewarning.
"I had mentioned to the umpires when I took out the lineup card that [that type of home run] was something to be aware of," Baylor said. "They said that doesn't happen that often. I said, 'Well, it happened twice last year.'"
With the wind blowing in, it was obviously not a wind-aided home run. But it was a wind-screen-aided home run, considering the dark green screens that now adorn the back fence.
The Pirates struck back in the seventh on back-to-back doubles off starter Jason Bere. Rob Mackowiak scored the game-winning run on an infield single after advancing to third on a passed ball.
"We haven't given the pitchers a lot of room for error," Baylor said after Bere's strong outing. "If they give up two runs, we should be able to [overcome] that."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun