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Got Wood, got win

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I was supposed to go to Friday's Cubs game, but the rain-delayed start, threatening weather and a need to get home early and get downtown for dinner plans kept me home. Poor decision, as the weather improved greatly and the game cruised through the first 7-1/2 innings. I would have missed the rest, but it might have been worth the trip to see some of the Indians fans, who according to my brother were acting like it was again Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, rather than a muggy dau in Chicago.

The Cubs completed their second straight amazing comeback win Friday when Ryan Theriot drove home Alfonso Soriano on a groundball with eyes that scooted past the Cleveland Indians 1st baseman. Another Cubbie moment to make the final score 8-7 on a day when the Cubs were down 7-0 halfway through. Minutes after the finish, another wave of storms swept through, so it was a case of great timing by the Cubs.

But, the biggest moment may have been Derrek Lee's game-tying bottom-9th homer off of former Cubs favorite Kerry Wood. I wish it would have happened to someone else, but I wouldn't trade the outcome for anything. Woody has not had a great year at all with his new team, though he has been better the last month or so. The problem may be that the Indian's never get him a lead, so he doesn't get much work--he was best last year after he came back from minor pains and got consistent work for the Cubs during the second-half. Sorry, Woody, but the Cubs need the wins.

In the 8th inning, it didn't look like we would get Wood at all, as the Indians were ahead 7-2, but their terrible bullpen gave up 4 more runs that inning. An error helped, but the Cubs looked like a new team stringing together singles and aggressive base-running that inning--all with 2 outs. Andres Blanco had a big 2-run, bases-loaded single to start the rally, while another run scored on a hard-hit grounder that was called an error and left Koyie Hill safe at 1st. Soriano, suddenly hitting again, drove in the last run of the inning with a single.

D-Lee had 2 homers on the day, the other in the 6th against the tough Cliff Lee. reed Johnson also homered earlier off of Lee.

Friday was also the homecoming for Mark DeRosa, the guy from last year who I think the Cubs miss the most. He got a nice standing ovation, and was 1-3 with an RBI and 2 walks. When Lou Piniella said the other day in the paper that the Cubs clubhouse is pretty quiet this year, that confirmed it for me: The Cubs made the wrong decision when they decided that a left-handed bat was worth more than DeRo's personality in the clubhouse. What they did in trading him of course makes perfect baseball sense--but, for all the stats and tendencies and percentages we all collect, there is so much about baseball that doesn't fit neatly into a spread sheet, or even an old baseball mentality that says the more lefties the better. Of course, if Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles, the switch-hitters that effectively replaced DeRo, guide the Cubs to the World Series, all will be forgiven.

Woody's replacement, Kevin Gregg, got the win yesterday, though most days I would still rather have Wood.

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs

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Consider this the first of many off-season posts on the subject of how our teams could shape up for next season...

It was ironic that Alfonso Soriano said after the Cubs' NLDS disaster that part of the problem was the team's "make-up," since it is Al-So who is one of the albatrosses in the line-up. I would like to trade him, as Sox fan Paul Reis suggests, even for just a couple of young supporting players, but who wants him without the Cubs paying most of his contract off? Could he be part of a Brian Roberts deal? Could he be sent to Atlanta, a team that, aside from Chipper Jones, is full of utility men and could use a power-hitting left-fielder enough that they would let him hit lead-off? Toronto, which desparately wants access to the A.L. East race?

I would like to see it happening, but I don't see it happening. So, what about other possible trades? Everyone's upset with the second albatross, Fukudome, but he's almost as untradeable as Soriano. I think teams like the Sox, Yankees, Oakland and others with a keen interest in plate patience, strong defense and good base-running skills, could be interested, but probably wouldn't part with much, would demand more than just Fukudome and would need contract help from the Cubs. The thing is, Fukudome could prove to have a much better second year if he makes a few adjustments, or the Cubs can get him to spend some time at AAA or in an off-season hitting program. I wouldn't give up on him just yet.

Then, there's Jason Marquis. I could see Marquis having value in big parks like Detroit or Seattle, or maybe Baltimore, but it might be good to keep him if Samarzdija isn't ready for a starting role.

More radical trade ideas: Derrek Lee, Marquis and Ronny Cedeno to the Orioles for Brian Roberts, Kevin Millar and whoever else they are willing to give; Soriano and Samarzdija to the Rockies for Matt Holliday; Soriano OR Lee to Toronto for OF Adam Lind, RHP Brandon League and LHP Brian Tallet (all up-and-comers).

Why the pre-occupation with trading D-Lee? Despite brief glimpses at greater potential, he's a low .290s hitter with his best power and speed years behind him at age 33. Yet, he could prove very valuable for a team that needs a 1B with a reliable bat, plate patience and a good glove. He does have a no-trade clause, and probably would rather go home to California than East or North, but maybe he would wave it for a welcoming situation where there wasn't a 100-year burden on everyone's back.

I also don't see the Cubs spending much money of the free agent market after the spending of the last couple years, the realization that free agent spending hasn't brought postseason success and the questions surrounding the timing of the team's sale in a crappy economic climate. I wouldn't be surprised is Jim Hendry is hand-cuffed by the Tribune company from spending much beyond what's needed to extend Harden (done) and re-sign Dempster, Woody and maybe Tatts Blanco. That would mean good-bye to Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward and Bob Howry, among others. The departure of the first two is seen as likely by many people, but Howry, I think, needs to re-start--again--somewhere else.

Could the Cubs use a free agent like Mark Texeira if they move D-Lee? Definitely. Could they use a free agent like Raul Ibanez if they somehow ship Soriano or Fukudome? Absolutely. Interesting scenarios, but unlikely.

A couple lower-cost free agent signings could include a Howry replacement like Jorge Julio (3.60 ERA, 34 Ks in 30 IP for the Braves this year), and a southpaw specialist--maybe Brian Shouse (2.81 ERA for the Brewers this year). These guys are not total studs, but that is sort of the point.

What other positions are in question? Well, there's manager. I know, Lou's deal was extended to 2010--before the NLDS fiasco that made him look like the rickety old man he appears to be every time he drags his butt out to the mound. Lou's package of confidence-building, occasional risk-taking and subtle line-up tinkering is a big part of what drove the Cubs to two straight division titles. Yet, as the pressure builds again next year, I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see more of crotchity Lou, the one who showed up in Tampa more often than not. I'll say right now I do not think that extension will be fulfilled for one of three possible reasons: 1) The Cubs finish out of division contention next year 2) The Cubs win the division and lose again in the NLDS 3) The Cubs win the World Series. The first two scenarios I think could result in a situation where Lou gets fed up and wants to leave as much as the Cubs (be then under a new owner) want to him to leave. Under the third, Lou decides he can't do any better and it was just to darn stressful, so the Cubs agree to let him retire--oh, and with teh Cubs having won it all, the planet explodes, and there is no 2010 season anyway...

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs starting line-up

Likely version:
LF Soriano
SS Theriot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
C Soto
RF DeRosa
2B Fontenot
CF Fukudome/Johnson
P

Radical version:
2B Fontenot (.395 OBP this year)
SS Theriot (the Cajun Connection!)
LF Soriano (Ks dip, HRs and BBs up)
3B Ramirez (More solo HRs, but same overall RBIs)
1B Lee (fading, but still potent N0. 5)
C Soto (they'll pay for walking D-Lee)
RF DeRosa (still streaky good, great value at No. 7)
CF Johnson (Fukie backs up, occasionally starts vs. righties or gets demoted)
P

Radically unrealistic overhauled-by-trade version:
2B Brian Roberts (Mighty Might again a Sub-Cub)
SS Theriot (some things never change)
3B Ramirez (sees great pitches)
LF Holliday (.388, 74 HRs, 192 RBIs--and has no problem not hitting lead-off)
C Soto (lots of solo HRs)
1B Hoffpauir/Millar (Hoff's power + Millar's fun = D-Lee forgotten)
RF DeRosa (finally settles into one position)
CF Johnson (With Fukie traded, Reed says, "Hey guys, what about me?")
P

Fight back against despair

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The Cubs blew Game 1 of the NLDS, losing to the Dodgers 7-2 at Wrigley, which by the accounts of some who were there, was as somber as a tomb from the moment the gates opened. Not that the Cubs and their fans look to the Southside for lessons on anything, but the fan-unifying "black out" at The Cell earlier in the week showed how a team and their fans can forget the past and throw themselves into the moment at hand. The Sox stumbled their way to Game 163, but the entire park was nothing but focused energy and excitement.

It's the players, of course, who carry the responsibility to win, energy or not, and Ryan Dempster looked completely uncomfortable in a park where he won 14 games this year. His supposed cold-weather throwing regimen during the 0ff-season seemed to prepare him well for the chilly October night at Wrigley, but he was wild from the start. Seven walks in five innings will doom any pitcher in any game, but issuing two of those walks to the opposing pitcher is an urgent cry for help, a cry that was not heard urgently enough in the dugout. Lou and Larry seemed to want to give Demp the benefit of the doubt, but as some columnists have pointed out this morning, why wait for your starter to find himself in a play-off game when you have other would-be starters sitting in the bullpen? On a cold night, it would not have been a bad idea anyway to get a couple guys up a bit earlier than usual to warm up. True, it's only Game 1, but is is the freakin' play-offs.

Dempster has proven adept all year at getting himself out of jams and avoiding the big inning. his two moments of collapse this year occurred at The Cell, and more recently when he fed Albert Pujols a three-run HR down in St. Louis. But this time, with the bases loaded, Demp hung one right in front of James Loney, an extremely good, but fairly unheralded contact hitter. I would say Demp committed the sin of going of the middle of the plate with a 1-2 count, but it looked like he meant to drop something in front of Loney to either get him fishing or ground into a force play. But, he didn't have the command last night to make it happen--something which was obvious to a lot of us at least a few batters earlier.

The Cubs had their chances on offense to right the ship, of course. They got a wind-blown homer from De-Ro and actually out-hit the Dodgers. Here's perhaps the most amazing fact from last night's game: The Cubs had players reach base in every inning of the game. This one was really a missed opportunity in every respect.

But, getting back to the fan behavior, erasing the collective memory of Cub fandom is not an option. When one thing goes wrong, most Cubs fans are bound to fear the worst. I know my stomach was churning even before the fateful 5th inning, when Demp loaded the bases in the 3rd with Cub-killer Andre Ethier at the plate. But, for lack of a better phrase, we need to find out nuts. We need to bring as much energy and excitement to the task as we expect our teams to bring, even when they let us down a little. I'm not saying cheer mistakes, but at least boo them vigorously for a limited moment and get onto to the next thing. And even when the Cubs are behind, make your voice heard during every Cub at-bat and every big pitch. I'm not an advocate of standing early in games our in favorable pitching counts when there are less than two outs, but there's nothing wrong with using your outside voice a little more. That's what seemed to be happening at Wrigley late in the regular season even when the Cubs were behind, but it seemed absent last night. Lord knows, it may add to the pressure for some and there's more pressure on the Cubs than most, but the pressure is there and the only thing to do is focus and play through it.

Game 2 starts tonight at the chilly hour of 8:37 p.m. The Cubs send Zammy against young strikeout-artist Chad Billingsley, but where last night's L.A. pitcher Derek Lowe is postseason-seasoned and tough to hit, young Chad can be had when he doesn't over-power. If he strikes out a few guys early, the Cubs should be able to learn something for later in the game. So, don't panic. And, someone remind Zammy that even though the situation calls for heroes, actually actually trying to be a hero usually doesn't get him very far. Don't you knda wish Lilly was starting tonight?

Meanwhile, the Sox go early down in Florida, and I like their chance in Game 1, coming off of the energy in Game 163 against a young team that has been sitting around waiting for them. Game on.

Cubs clinch, Sox wait

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Finally and decisively, though hardly easily, the Cubs clinched the Central Division title for the second straight year, giving them a postseason berth for the second straight year for the first time in 100 years.

The Cubs beat the Cardinals 5-4, and were able to take advantage of some poor fielding early in the game on a base-loaded single by Al-So that turned into a double and scored three runs. DeRo added an RBI later, and even Lilly drove in a run on a squueze bunt. Lilly was pretty good, except for a four-run 6th, and Marmol and Woody made almost no mistakes in preserving the close victory.

There was much debate about whether or not the Cubs would celebrate--or perhaps how they would celebrate--given that the World Series is the ultimate target and this team is supposed to be so different than past Cubs teams. To me, it looked like the usually bubbly bath over fresh Division Champ T-shirts and caps for everyone, complete with stupid observations from media and fans about how there's just nothing better than this. Sure there is, and getting to the World Series would be just a start.

Sorry if I sound a bit sour. Maybe, I'm still mad that they didn't clinch when I was at Wrigley yesterday, but my desire to stay serious--even through the next week just to go into the postseason on the right foot--is also just a reflection of how far the Cubs have to go, and how hard it will be. I was happy to hear many of the Cubs players take the same tone in their post-game interview today.

For the rest of the way, I'd like to see the Cubs play their regulars, with a couple exceptions: Theriot should maybe get some prolonged rest, while putting in additional time at the batting cage to get out of his awful slump. Also, while Fukie used to be a regular, he no longer is, and I think Lou should actually start him the rest of the way against whatever right handers are left, perhaps make him a bunt a few times and work hard on drawing walks and stealing bases if he gets on. His main value right now is as a glove man, but his experience and training give him some valuable tools that could be key during the postseason--and he may night have to drive the ball anywhere to make something happen. If the Cubs get in some close games during the next week, I'd also like to see them use Samarzdija and Howry in set-up and closer roles at least once--maybe give Marmol and Woody a night off, though not every night off, and get the Notre Dame kid and the embattled Howry into a few more tight situations.

The White Sox won last night 9-4 and, witrh a Piranhas loss, got their magic number down to 7. Today, the Sox lost, but the with the Piranhas still being tortured by the now-postseason-bound
Rays, the magic number slid down to 6. It's looking an awful lot like this week's trip to Minnesota will be the crucible.

Last night, Buehrle was on short rest, but pretty solid through 6 IP, and didn't implode after giving up a 3-run HR to Sox nemesis Mark Teahen. The big blast for the Sox was The Missile's third grand slam of the year, which came after an epic nine-pitch at-bat where you could tell Alexei had K.C. pitcher Brian Bannister under his thumb. With CQ out, the young, skinny Cuban has become the most surprisingly potent offensive threat for this team.

And what about DeWayne Wise? He hit two HRs Friday night and has four in the last week. The Great and Powerful Oz should play him as often as possible the rest of the way, since Dirty 30 can not necessarily be counted on.

The Sox have pitchers working on short rest now with mixed results. Gavin Floyd seemed like a sure thing today, but was not good, as far as what we have come to expect from him. He gave up 5 runs in just over 6 IP. The Sox never really got it together at the plate either. The Missile homered again, but this time with only one man on base, and very late in the game. The Sox managed only three other hits. When they are off the mark, they are way, way off. The division still belongs to the White Sox, though, and it will be their division to win or lose the rest of the way.

A new beginning

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Who had a good feeling about last night's Cubs/Reds pitching match-up? That's right, you heard it here first that Marquis would have a strong outing and lead the Cubs out of their 6-game losing streak. OK, maybe Soriano's 3-HR performance had something to do with it, too. Marquis kept the game in hand despite an bases-loaded walk on a questionalble call that looked like it would get him tossed early.

The Cubs offense--AlSo, DeRo, D-Lee and the rest--scored in every inning after the 2nd, but in the end, the bullpen did a lot to make this one a more painful experience for some fans than the 14-9 final would indicate. Mrs. SBW and I were heading back from dinner and listening to the radio when the Cubs were ahead 11-1, and I made fun of Ronny for feeling nervous about the 10-run lead. Then, the Reds scored 4 runs in the 8th, and by the time D-Lee was up in the 9th with the bases loaded, the Mrs. was screaming at the radio demanding more runs. Again, I had to laugh with the Cubs still up 11-5 at the time, but Lee and then Mighty Mite together drove in 3 runs to make it 14-5, I felt good with Wuertz on the mound to start the 9th, giving Marmol a rest with a 9-run lead, but Wuertz loaded the bases and Marmol came in looking like someone woken up in the middle of the night. He promptly gave up a grand slam to Jolbert Cabrera (Who?), but then came to his senses.

Hopefully, the Cubs are back to their winning ways, though their tough road to October gets tougher later this week.

I hate giving the White Sox second billing today because their 7-6 15-inning victory was a hugely significant game (while we were in the car with the Reds scoring runs late against the Cubs, I was switching from 720 AM to 670 AM frequently to track both games.)

Not long after we got home and the Cubs had sealed their victory, Thome obliterated an 0-1 pitch for career HR No. 537 and a White Sox winner, a turn of events which I called from my own couch just before it happened (my dog is a witness). I couldn't tell whether Thome's smash landed on the right field consourse or not, but yes, it went that far. Jenks had given the Angels a 6-5 lead in the 9th after the Sox had tied the score in the 7th an a 2-run HR by Dirty 30. But, the Sox tied it off K-Rod in the bottom of the 9th, thereby keeping Thiggy's 57-save record safe a little longer (K-Rod has 54 saves and certainly will break the record, though he has been off lately.)

The Sox blew a great chance to win the the 10th, wasting a man on 3rd with no outs situation. A.J. again showed poor base-running choices in getting caught off 3rd base for the second out of the inning (Doug Eddings wasn't around to save him this time.) A.J. wasn't replaced with a pinch-runner presumably because Ozzie used both Wise and Owens as PRs in the 9th (Owens getting himself thrown out at 2nd after doing a delayed tag-up from 1st base on the sac fly that scored the tying run.)

Despite the base-running gaffes, the bullpen was in lock-down mode. Even Jenks pitch a strong 10th after his bad 9th. But, Matt Thornton was more impressive, pitching 2-2/3 scoreless innings and Ehren Wasserman got the Sox out of a 14th inning jam--and got the win--by de-clawing the aging but still dangerous Vlad Guerrero.

The Piranhas lost, so the Sox are 2-1/2 games up in 1st place. They have already won the series against the postseason-ready Angels, and go for the sweep today. Both of our teams suddenly look fresh with new beginnings.

September to mis-remember

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Pardon the time off--I was waiting to have something good to say, and finally I do: The White Sox just beat Cleveland 4-2, escaping town with a win and winning for the second time in their last six games. The story was solid pitching by Vazquez and a 1-2/3-inning, two-double-play save by no longer rusty Bobby Jenks. the Missile and Dirty 30 had HRs.

More importantly, everybody looked loose in this one. Last week, there was a call for more urgency and intensity, but maybe this Sox team is tougher to beat when it isn't trying so hard to find its inner strength. The Sox had been shut out on Labor Day, but the victimizer was likely Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who won his 20th game. Last night's 9-3 downfall was tougher to take, as Danks tanked again and th Sox left 10 men on base. But, the bright spots were Dirty 30 and Paulie, who are both getting better at the plate. And... the Piranhas lost last night, so things are looking up... a little.

What's worse than leaving 10 men on base? 12, which is how many the Cubs stranded in a tough 9-7 11-inning loss Tuesday. After three games in which they had barely mustered any offense--peaking in a 3-0 loss when Mrs. SBW and I were in attendance on Labor Day--the Cubs had 15 hits, but could only bring 7 home. Geo, Edmonds, DeRo and AlSo (yes, Soriano) all hit HRs and there were even some other non-single run-scoring hits by The-Riot and Mighty Mite.

But, after Zammy left (more on that later) in the 5th with the score tied 3-3, the bullpen--more specifically Howry--couldn't hold. Woody gave up a game-winning 2-run HR to ex-Sox World Series hero Geoff Blum, but after multiple innings in which the Cubs left the winning run stranded, it didn't seem like such a surprise. Woody actually was otherwise good, striking out 4 in 2 IP, as was Marmol, who had 2 IP and came away clean. Fortunately for the Cubs, the Brewers lost their last two.

Well, the Cubs have now matched their longest losing streak of the season at 4. Hopefully, the fact reminds them of how good they really are.

Now, about Zammy. His 5 IP were by no means great, but he looked better than he had in recent games. But after the game, word come out that he "didn't feel good." When pressed, Lou said, according to the papers, "I think it's his arm." Do you really think so?

Zammy was supposed to be examined today, but no news yet on how that turned out. But, I bet Lou's right--it's his arm.

Is it too soon to start Samardzija?

Believe what you just saw

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I said in a previous post that a whole generation of Cubs fans are now growing up who know their team only as a frequent contender and a winner, one that is likely about to make the play-offs for the second year in a row, the third time in five years, the fourth time in 10 years. I envy them, because games like Thursday night's stunning 6-4 victory, for someone of my generation (I'm 40), are often simply too hard to believe. An hour after the game is over, you're struggling to sleep because your mind is spinning at what you just witnessed and what still may be to come in the near future. The reality of it is almost scary, in part because you feel you have been led down this road before, in part because you have never seen anything like it.

If the Cubs would have lost last night, no one would have been too concerned. They were going up against Cole Hamels, for cryin' out loud. If you see them winning a four-game series against the Phils, this is the one game they would probably lose. And Hamels was pretty fantastic, the Cubs only run against him in 7 IP coming on a two-strike triple by DeRosa after Fukie's infield hit. Dempster started for the Cubs, and was decent, but only barely staying ahead of the Phils until giving up 3 runs in the 6th to leave the Cubs behind 4-1.

But again, the Cubs pulled an 8th inning comeback out of their rally caps after Hamels exited. Mighty Mite hit a PH HR, and the Cubs loaded the bases for A-Ram who, before you even had a chance to consider the possibilities, clubbed a grand slam to left--positively disintegrating the ball and leaving no doubt from the moment of impact in anyone's mind, especially Phils CF Shane "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino and A-Ram himself.

The thing that some of us might have thought impossible an inning before, so impossible that even when it happened, it still seemed impossible, actually happened. It happened to a team that through my years growing up and really through my whole life until now only seemed to have one misfortune heaped upon another, given a taste of dreamy victory one time after another only to have it snatched by fate. It was the kind of misfortune that eventually made me not want to be a Cubs fan anymore--I just couldn't handle the combination of disappointment and organizational ineptitude, a seeming aversion to even wanting to create a winning team at times. It was the kind of misfortune that makes one believe that some things just can't happen.

But it did happen last night, and more than anything I wanted to call my father and share the excitement with him, and talk to him--a true die-hard Cubs fan--about the possibilities of where this Cubs team will go. But, I couldn't. The 2007 season was his last. So, I was left myself to celebrate and ponder the possibilities, just as I was earlier this year when the Cubs mounted a 9-run comeback against the Rockies. That afternoon I was driving down Irving Park Road as the amazing comeback unfolded on the radio, wanting to call my dad and yell into the phone, but instead I just pounded the roof of my car with my fist, thinking, can he see this where he is? Can he enjoy it? Or was he a loyal Cubs fan through the years only to just barely miss the best part? I want to believe he was watching. I want to believe anyone who is no longer among the living and would have loved it is somehow enjoying it as much as we are now. I want to believe.

The Cub that ate Pittsburgh

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Tuesday night's 14-9 Cubs victory against Pittsburgh showed again just how tough and patient this year's team is, coming back after being placed in a hole more than once by poor pitching and fielding. A 7-run 8th inning put the Bucs to bed for good, and two of the initial runs that inning came on walks to big boppers D-lee and A-Ram, both of whom patiently waited for Bucs pitcher Hansen to find the strike zone (he never did), rather than feeling the need to air out big swings with the bases jammed.

But the real hero was Geo, with an HR, 2 doubles and 7 RBI (in the crazy 8th, he later cleared the bases with a double for the second time in the game, making soto fan and the rest of us very happy). Great team all around this year, but I think Geo and Reed Johnson are maybe my favorites this season.

The bad part of the amazing comeback victory is that part of the reason the Cubs had to mount multiple comebacks was Zambrano's inability to shut down the Lowly Pirates. Being Zammy, he did well at the plate, but his hitting is becoming the best part of his game (6 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks in 4.2 IP in this one-ick). Somebody straighten him out or get him to watch some video or something before he actually breaks a hand taking his frustration out on inanimate objects in the dugout.

Another victory today, 2-0 over the Lowly Pirates in the getaway day matinee. Marquis was due for one of his good outings, and the Cubs got it. The bats were tired from last night, but Reed started a two-run inning with a bunt single and DeRo later scored on a squeeze bunt by Blanco. Nice. Now, it's back to Chicago to take on the Phillies. Giddyup...

The Sox looked strong Tuesday night, too, scoring 8 runs to show the offense was still alive after a string low-scoring games. Dirty 30 homered and is maybe finally earning his keep, CQ was 3-5, Junior drove in a run and Gavin Floyd settled in to a Floyd-like 8 IP. Again good news out of the Great Northwest: The Piranhas lost to Lowly Seattle, so the Sox are 2 games up in 1st. Just another agme or two is all I ask for now... Another game in Baltimore tonight.

Rays get A.J.'d; Harden gets boring

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I'm trying to keep it short today, though there is plenty to talk about. The Sox were down 5-4 in the 9th Sunday with the 3rd out running toward home plate trying to score on a short single when Rays' All-Star catcher Navarro botched the catch and the tying run scored. An inning later, A.J. was on second and got caught in a run down on a poor base-running move. Just when he was about to be tagged, he made contact with one of the Rays' fielders involved in the play. The call by Umpire Doug Eddings (yes, that Doug Eddings) was interference on the Rays and A.J. was awarded third base. Then, wouldn't you know it, he scored the winning run on a single by the Missile. Sox win 6-5 after being moments from getting swept. Instead they are alone in first place today because the Piranhas lost. Wow.

Is A.J. a cheater? If cheating is taking advantage of the chaos of a situation and making it more chaotic and confusing, then yes. But, he is more in tune with the subtext of a game situation than any player I have ever seen. Just earlier this month, I saw him purposely get caught in an inning-ending rundown that allowed a lead run to score that otherwise wouldn't have scored. Call it--and him--what you want, but either way, it's a win.

Meanwhile, on the Northside, Rich Harden is so freakin' good, he's starting to put me to sleep. Another great 7 IP, double-digit K (11 this time) performance by Harden, and the Cubs won the series against the Nats 6-1. DeRosa homered in his 4th straight game, nearing the record of 5 held by Ryno, Sammy and Hack Wilson. Fukie had a homer, too, and reportedly got some advice from the coaching staff on his bad swing habits, so hopefully we'll see a resurgence.

When you're playing the Nats, you've gotta hope for a series sweep. Instead the Cubs took two out of three the way the have been doing it to a bunch of teams all year. Just stay in that groove, boys...

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