Which only gave them one more thing to worry about once the vaunted bullpen coughed up a save and suffered a 2-1 loss in 10 innings that completed a series sweep by the Cubs.
"We had it where we wanted it," said manager Joe Torre, whose club has lost five of the last six games, scoring four runs in the losses.
"We got seven innings from Derek Lowe pitching the kind of game he did, with [Jonathan] Broxton and [Takashi] Saito. You can't always expect a number of runs. One run at that time has got to be enough."
It wasn't. Although Lowe faced the minimum hitters over his last 3 2/3 innings and had only 91 pitches, he wasn't allowed to secure his first victory in five weeks. Torre had the back end of his bullpen at the ready and went to it.
"I never even got to that point [of arguing to stay in]," said Lowe. "It was a handshake, and that's it, let's go. I didn't have a lot of say at that point."
Broxton got the setup call and did his job, striking out the side in the eighth. Then it was Saito to close it out.
Wild high with the fastball, Saito walked two of the first three batters he faced. He missed stepping on first base while taking a throw from James Loney on Kosuke Fukudome's infield single that loaded the bases and allowed the tying run on Geovany Soto's sacrifice fly. Of the opponents' last 16 runs, eight have resulted from walks.
Having already won the first two games of the series by 3-1 scores, the Cubs completed the series sweep in the 10th off Chan Ho Park, Mike Fontenot's one-out pinch-double followed by Alfonso Soriano's game-winning soft single down the left-field line.
The Dodgers offense -- again without Jeff Kent as well as Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and Nomar Garciaparra -- was at its best when it didn't swing the bat.
|"You can't win every game 1-0. You won't be too successful trying to do that. Everybody, instead of trying to do it yourself, we've got to do it as a team, especially with runners in scoring position."|
|-- Russell Martin|
"It's just that the offense is struggling right now," said Torre. "We're fighting it. Everybody feels the pressure of it. We couldn't generate any consistency."
The Dodgers stranded 10 and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position (6-for-56 over the last six games) as they fell to .500 on the season.
"Sometimes, the offense has got to put more runs on the board," said catcher Russell Martin, who had three of the Dodgers' seven hits. "You can't win every game 1-0. You won't be too successful trying to do that. Everybody, instead of trying to do it yourself, we've got to do it as a team, especially with runners in scoring position. We've got to get better with that."
Saito, who suffered his third blown save of the season, was quick to shoulder the blame and rejected the suggestion that a Spring Training calf injury, a recent bout with the flu, long stretches of inactivity or the Wrigley Field weather were contributing factors.
"It's not the offense's fault. It's totally my fault," said Saito, who had a 37-pitch inning. "I'm not making excuses. I've been in situations many times, if something's wrong with the fastball or another pitch, I have to adjust on the mound, and I just couldn't do it today."
Of course, at age 38, there always is the possibility that Saito won't duplicate his previous All-Star form, which is why Broxton is the closer in training, although his ERA is more than double Saito's even after Wednesday night. Saito, whose past command has been pinpoint, faced six batters and started five of them with a ball.
Torre said even when Saito walked two of the first three hitters, he never considered warming up anybody else.
"It's going to be him," Torre said. "Temperament-wise, I wouldn't want to trust it to anybody else at that time."
Although Lowe pitched his best game of the year -- scattering four hits over seven scoreless innings -- as a former closer he could feel Saito's pain.
"I've been there," he said. "I've blown a lot of games in my career, and I understand the feeling. It was one of those days.
"I knew the way Zambrano has been pitching, he wouldn't give up runs. It's fun, because you know you have to pitch possibly the best game of the year. It's a fun game to play in. That being said, it's still disappointing to lose three games. Come in and get swept, and we were in every single game. We have to regroup and find a way to win close games."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.