Bring Back The Blue Jerseys!

I'm sure many of you are surprised to see me write that headline on the recap of today's frustrating 6-4 loss to the Pirates, which dropped the Cubs back to the .500 mark.

But maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea, at least on the days Carlos Zambrano pitches. This sounds silly at first glance, but Z is so emotional about the way he approaches his game, maybe seeing everyone in the blue shirts, the shirts they wore when he had his successful years, might make a difference.

It couldn't hurt, and it just might help.

The other thing, as I told Howard, Jon and Brian today, is that when Z goes out to the mound to start the game, tell him it's the second inning. If you eliminate the first inning of all of Z's starts, his remaining innings total 39.1, in which he has allowed 37 hits and 17 earned runs, an ERA of 3.89, nearly two full runs lower than his current season ERA of 5.83.

That's a significant difference. Michael Barrett told me Sunday night in my interview with him that he didn't think Z had his proper arm angle on Friday in the first inning, but he got it back by the 2nd, and I think the same was the case today -- the first four batters reached base, one on a hit-by-pitch, two on doubles, and one on a single; after that, Larry Rothschild made a mound visit and Z settled down, retiring the next eight batters in a row.

The game would have stayed close if Matt Murton had made what appeared from our angle in LF to be a play that, while of moderate difficulty, was makeable -- he dropped a fly ball on the warning track, allowing a run to score after a Z walk, and then another hit scored Xavier Nady, who had hit the ball that Murton dropped.

Those two runs turned out to be the difference in the game, after the Cubs clawed their way back into it on two solo HR, one by Alfonso Soriano, one by the recalled-from-Iowa Angel Pagan, and a two-run, pinch-hit job by Michael Barrett.

About Pagan, it was the right move at this time. I want Felix Pie to succeed at the major league level and even though he has struggled a bit at the plate, I don't think he's overmatched. But with the outfield logjam, it was clear that Pie wasn't going to play every day, and he needs that. So for now, let him do so at Iowa, and Pagan was a good choice -- it appears that Lou Piniella will at least consider the idea of platooning him with Jacque Jones in CF, and have Murton and Cliff Floyd platoon in RF. That RF platoon is likely going to provide some not-so-great defense, as it did today. But until and unless someone (cough Jones cough) is traded, that's probably the solution, though not a very elegant one.

We have been remarking all week about how nice the weather has been; it was 76 degrees at game time with a light wind wafting over the right-field wall, and considering the sort of weather you can have at this time of year, it really has been pleasant all week. There were tons of school and other groups in the upper deck today, one of them clad in garish neon-green T-shirts; I also saw a "Class of 2007" from a Catholic school whose name escapes me, wearing a slightly darker shade of green, and I am hoping that if someone from that school reads this, please confirm to me that you are graduating eighth grade, because if you are high school kids, then I am really getting old.

The announced attendance of 41,101 seemed very high -- there were quite a few empty seats in the upper deck, although bleacher tickets were at high demand; some of the street brokers were asking $50 for a ticket that cost $17 at the box office. It didn't seem as if they were doing a very brisk business. Today, I met BCB reader MerigoldBowling and his girlfriend, who sat with us. Nice to meet both of you -- and outside the park on the street, as I was walking to my car, I heard, "Al?" It was another BCB reader, tucsoncubsfan, who had come into town for the game.

The Cubs' offense the last two days troubles me. All the runs the last two days scored on home runs, three solo shots and Barrett's 2-run dinger. The club, which had exhibited some patience at the plate before today, drew only one walk, and after the first inning, which took nearly half an hour, the game flew by (total game time 2:23).

Over the next two and a half weeks, we should learn much more about this club's prospects for this season. They've played much better on the road (8-5) than at home (8-11), and 13 of the next 16 are away from Wrigley Field. Obviously, this isn't the best way to win a postseason berth -- every good team finds ways to win in its home park -- but a win is a win. In the seven games out East, in Philadelphia and New York, it seems imperative to win at least four, and preferably five. I don't see the Phillies as tough competition, despite my own and others' preseason predictions that they'd win the East. The Cubs played the Mets competitively even in 2006 (well, except for this mess of a game that was ESPN's Sunday night feature in mid-July), so I'd expect them to be able to do the same this year.

The Brewers may be seven games in front right now, but I wouldn't expect them to continue to play .706 ball all year (their Pythagorean record entering today's action was 21-13, and the Cubs' was 19-12, and I believe that reflects more accurately how closely matched these two teams are).

Onward. And for heaven's sake, let Z and the rest of the team wear the blue tops in his next start, which will be Tuesday in New York. Couldn't hurt, right?

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