The rain that had ruled Chicago for the last several days moved out yesterday, leaving pleasant conditions and mostly clear skies last night; the clouds hanging over the Cubs also cleared, if only for a day, and the result was a well-played 6-2 win over the Athletics.
Maybe it's just the optimist in me, but I still see a chance for the Cubs in what appears to be a weak Central division. Both the Reds and Cardinals lost last night, so the Cubs crept to within 6.5 games of those teams, who are currently tied for the division lead. The Cardinals have lost seven of their last ten. The Reds have lost six of their last nine. Neither is a juggernaut. To be fair, neither are the Cubs; yet after having seen last night's game, there is some hope, at least for me, that the Cubs can put together a five or six game winning streak and get back in this thing.
Derrek Lee homered -- the ball clanked off a stairway railing about four rows down and just to my right in the LF corner and bounced back onto the field -- and also singled and scored. The Cubs took advantage of runners in scoring position for what seemed to be the first time since... well, ever; only three men were left in scoring position and several key hits helped break the game open in the fifth inning. Two runners -- Geovany Soto at the plate in the second inning and Alfonso Soriano at third base after doubling in two runs in the fifth -- were thrown out on the bases, but neither was a TOOTBLAN; both were reasonable chances to take at the time and given the circumstances.
Ryan Dempster didn't have his best stuff and once again ran up a high pitch count (120), and Lou left him out there in the hope he'd finish the seventh inning, but it just couldn't quite happen; Dempster instead left to warm applause and Sean Marshall finished off that inning and the eighth.
The only critique I'd have of Lou last night is why he brought in Carlos Marmol in a non-save situation in the ninth; Andrew Cashner was also warming up in the eighth inning and it would have been a perfect time to let him throw the ninth in a relatively low-pressure situation. Marmol, though, was perfect: he threw eight pitches, all strikes, and so is certainly available if a save situation arises this afternoon.
Finally, props to Soriano for his perfectly executed bunt in the fourth inning, which helped lead to the Cubs' third run. He was credited with a sacrifice -- his first in a Cub uniform -- but it appeared he was bunting for a hit, and nearly got one. He left the field after the out to a standing ovation, well deserved.
The Cubs still have to be concerned about attendance figures. On a beautiful night, the crowd was a bit larger than Monday's -- 36,244, which appeared to be a legitimate number, pretty close to the actual count in the house -- but still 5,000 below capacity. A winning streak right now would help bring a few more people into the house, not to mention give a little hope in this weird National League season.
Let's win this series. The game preview will post at 11:30 am CDT.