Like an off-Broadway play that needs some tinkering, the Cubs have proven they are not quite ready for prime time.
A 2-0 loss Saturday to the New York Mets by the Cubs, their fourth in a row, left them two games below .500 and searching for answers.
The Cubs now have lost six of seven and are 21-29 since June 11, when they reached their high point at six games above .500 with a 7-6 victory over Boston.
With six teams ahead of them in the National League wild-card playoff race, the Cubs' chances of vaulting the pack are getting slimmer every day.
"There's no concern," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We're going to play hard and come out of this thing. This is about the third or fourth time we've been in it, and we've come out every time.
"We have to win [Sunday's] game, at least we don't have a terrible road trip and also go 0-for-New York, including Yankee Stadium and [Shea Stadium]. We certainly don't want to go 0-for-New York."
Carlos Zambrano will face Victor Zambrano on Sunday night, trying to keep the Cubs from falling down the rabbit's hole.
Saturday's game was a study in slow motion, with the Cubs' bats looking lifeless against Mets right-hander Jae Seo. Called up from Triple-A Norfolk, Seo outdueled Greg Maddux in holding the Cubs scoreless for 71/3 innings before three relievers finished up.
"We just have to come ready to play [Sunday], that's all you can do," Maddux said. "You've heard it a million times. Worrying never helps.."
Maddux held the Mets to two runs on four hits in seven innings, allowing only an RBI double to David Wright in the first and Carlos Beltran's run-scoring bloop single in the third. The speedy Jose Reyes set up Beltran's RBI when he tagged up from first on a fly to medium-center field and beat the throw from center fielder Jose Macias.
"Maddux pitched great," Baker said. "He made a great fielding play, he stole a base, he got our first hit. He did everything he could do, going seven innings to save our bullpen. We didn't have a lot of chances."
The Cubs couldn't score for Maddux, continuing their puzzling offensive slump.
They have scored four or fewer runs in eight of their last 11 games, going 3-8 in that span. Their only two real scoring opportunities Saturday came in the fifth, when Matt Lawton was fooled on a changeup and grounded back to Seo with runners on second and third and two outs, and in the eighth, when Roberto Hernandez struck out Derrek Lee on a splitter with two on and two outs.
Maddux's record fell to 8-9 as he tries to stave off his first losing season since going 6-14 in 1987, his first full year.
"No one wants to be below .500, but I'll do what I can to get ready for my next start and get back to .500," he said.
Maddux came into the game sixth in the National League in run support at 5.69 runs per nine innings. But this start marked the fifth time in his last seven starts the Cubs have scored two or fewer runs for him, and he's 1-5 since June 30.
"It seems like it has been like that all year for him," second baseman Todd Walker said. "He has thrown well and we just can't seem to score for him. It's terrible."