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SportsMonday: Treading Water

Did you say it? Did you say something along the lines of, "Just when I think I've seen everything in baseball . . . ?" Because just when you think you've seen everything in baseball, the Cubs played a game (a 10-1 victory over the Reds) on Sunday in which each of their outfielders hit two home runs. Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber's blasts added up to a major league first.

It was also a game in which after six innings the Cubs had hit five home runs but had only six runs. That is not easy to do.

But most of all it was a game that gave the Cubs a needed series split in Cincinnati a little more than two-thirds of the way through a long road trip. If they take two-of-three in the upcoming series in last-place Pittsburgh, they break even over their previous 10 games on the road. Breaking even on the road the rest of the way probably puts them in position to hang on to the top spot in the Central.

They are now 20-14. The North Siders are 6-10 over the past two-and-a-half weeks, but they are still reasonably well out in front thanks to their hot start.

The lead is 3.5 games over the Cardinals, but that is more than a little weird of course because the gents from St. Louis have seven games in hand, i.e., they actually lead the Cubs in the loss column by a game (they have 13 setbacks). The Cubs are ahead of the Brewers by 4.5 and the Reds by 5.

Sunday's game also almost certainly served as the bridge from Tyler Chatwood in the starting rotation to Jose Quintana moving back in. And Quintana looks like he is ready to have at it after he turned in another solid three-inning stint on Sunday. In his first appearance for the Cubs in Chatwood's previous start, Quintana pitched three great innings but then tried to go four and gave up two hits and a walk. Casey Sadler then came in and immediately gave up a grand slam.

Chatwood was pitching much better this time around but he hurt his arm in the third inning and it didn't look good. If it is a serious injury, Chatwood's almost utterly star-crossed stint with the Cubs will almost certainly be over. If so, happy trails to a stand-up guy whose stuff was almost too good (a stretch of wildness always seemed to be lurking even when he was getting outs). Sometimes baseball is a bitch. In fact, it is a bitch a lot of the time.

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the coolest thing about the team right now is that Jason Heyward is as hot as he has ever been. My wife the bitter Red Sox fan (seriously, how could six-billionaire John Henry have essentially given away second-best player in baseball, Mookie Betts? She isn't going to get over it for a long, long time) said over the weekend that if there is one Cub she wants to do well it is Heyward.

Safe to say many of us feel that way. And not just because he is the only Black regular in the Cubs' lineup - which put him in a tough spot this past week. By Sunday it seemed as though Heyward had convinced most people that he didn't want the rest of the team to sit out in the middle of the week when athletes of all ethnicities in three major sports went on wildcat strikes. But he was in a tough spot when he sat out solo against the Tigers and will continue to be so.

It is an accepted fact that Heyward is a respected, quiet leader. But he has also underperformed his extra-large contract so far in his Cubs career. Heyward has always led by example at least in terms of his work ethic. It would be a glorious thing if he could go ahead and lead with his bat for a while.

Heyward's batting average is now .286; his OPS has skied to .962. And thank goodness for all that because other than Ian Happ no one else on the team is hitting better than Anthony Rizzo's .235.

I know David Ross thinks he will be admitting he is "panicking" if he changes the lineup, but for gosh sakes man, you need to get Javy Baez (.202) out of the three-hole. You are now moving on from the Reds' Great American Ballpark that is actually the Great American Bandbox and you can't count on six home runs in any one game again any time soon.

Time to take on the Pirates starting tomorrow (Tuesday) evening. Hopefully a well-rested Cubs squad can notch a couple wins against a team with perhaps the worst lineup in baseball.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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