Cubs fall again, still in ‘driver’s seat’

Jacque Jones strikes out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning against the Florida Marlins at Dolphin Stadium in Miami on Thursday. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, LYNNE SLADKY

AP

Jacque Jones strikes out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning against the Florida Marlins at Dolphin Stadium in Miami on Thursday. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, LYNNE SLADKY

By Steven Wine

MIAMI – 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 retained their two-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers, who lost to the San Diego Padres, 9-5.

“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 remained three. 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 here. 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.