You may have seen this number already, but it bears repeating: 26. Twenty-six games over .500, the most a Cub team has been since the last day of the 1984 season, when they finished an NL East title year at 96-65, 31 games over .500.
You've seen these numbers if you keep track of the "best starts" box I've had on the right sidebar since May -- there are, as of this morning, only nine Cub teams that have had a better record through 120 games than this year's 73-47. That includes six pennant winners, a 104-win second place team (1909), a 91-win third place team (1912) and the ill-fated 1969'ers.
The 2008 Cubs have a chance to outdo nearly all of them -- only one of those nine won the World Series (1907); the 1908 team is on the list on the sidebar, but if you've been keeping track, you know that it just recently appeared on the list. In 1908 the team got off to a good start, slumped in the middle of the season, and didn't return to first place to stay till late September, finishing 99-55.
And yesterday, they swept the Braves in a doubleheader, winning the first game 10-2, and then came out blazing with four first-inning runs in game two, shutting Atlanta out 8-0, their first doubleheader sweep since the twinbill that clinched the NL Central title on September 27, 2003.
As has been the case with this year's team, different heroes emerged for each game. In game one, Jim Edmonds and Geovany Soto both homered -- Soto needs one more to tie the Cubs' team record for HR by a rookie catcher, 19, set by Randy Hundley in 1966 -- and Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot and Alfonso Soriano all had two hits. It's one of the Soriano hits that was the only blemish on this gem of a game -- when he stood at the plate admiring a ball that he thought was out of the ballpark, only to see it bounce off the wall. Sori had to stop at first with a single and he also had to apologize to Lou Piniella and his teammates. This isn't the first time Soriano has done this -- but it had better be the last. This team doesn't need this kind of hotdogging. It led to a pitch high and tight by Braves rookie reliever Francisley Bueno the next time Soriano came to bat, leading to Bueno's immediate ejection. While a "message" pitch may be "part of the game", as many players say, throwing at someone's head is decidedly not.
In game two, Kosuke Fukudome perhaps began the process of coming out of his slump with a two-run, first-inning single in the Cubs' four-run inning. This made life easier for Rich Harden, who, throwing with eight days' rest, was a little wild, walking five, but allowing only two singles. The walks helped lead to a large pitch total (92) after five innings, so Lou took Harden out, and the bullpen, consisting in game two of Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall, gave the Braves only one hit and one walk over the last four innings. The Cubs' eight-run, ten-hit, six-walk attack in game two included no homers; that's one of the things I like most about this team, that they can put up big run totals without the long ball. Marshall, incidentally, will start on Sunday in Florida, an extra starter being needed because of the juggling as a result of Tuesday's rainout. Harden, whose turn would have come up on Sunday, will throw the first game vs. the Reds at Wrigley Field next Tuesday.
With the win well in hand, the CSN crew decided to focus on the frivolity in the dugout -- Carlos Zambrano balancing a bottle on his head, and putting a bubble gum bubble on the top of Mike Fontenot's cap. You could hear "Let's Go Cubbies!" loudly chanted in the stands -- almost as loud as at a home game; looking at various crowd shots, Cubs fans had to outnumber Braves fans, at least in the late innings of the two blowouts.
I've written this before but it bears repeating. Remember each and every one of these games in this special season. We are seeing things that most Cubs fans have never seen before. With the Brewers still winning, all of these wins are important. Let's sweep this series -- the Cubs are, at last, winning on the road (that's seven consecutive road wins, incidentally, dating back to the last game of the Arizona series), and that's about the only thing this team hasn't been doing well.