Carlos Zambrano Solid Again; Cubs Win Third Straight. With Z: Now What?

About two hours before today's 5-3 Cubs win over the Mets, Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia exited a taxi outside Wrigley Field near the corner of Addison & Sheffield and pleasantly signed autographs for a couple dozen fans (many in Mets garb) before entering the park.

This is pretty unusual for a starter on the day of his turn; usually they want to be more focused than that, and Mejia, who was making his first major league start, was just as pleasant to the Cubs over his 5 innings of work. The Cubs knocked out eight hits and scored four runs off Mejia, the last of those four on a wild pitch, and the Cubs added a run on Aramis Ramirez's 21st home run of the season. The Cubs now have two players with 70 or more RBI (Alfonso Soriano with 72), so there's a pretty good shot that one of these guys will make a run and finish with 90 or more. No player has led the Cubs in RBI in a non-strike season with fewer than 90 since Mark Grace led the 1989 NL East champions with 79.

Meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano was stating his case -- again -- for the 2011 rotation. What do you do now? As I said after Z's last outing, I was one of those in favor of trading him no matter what after his meltdown at the Cell. But now? He's 4-0 in six starts since his return, with a 1.98 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 36.1 innings in those starts. The walks were a concern, but he walked only two today (22 walks in those 36.1 innings) and gave up just three singles and a home run to Ike Davis, his only real mistake.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were having offensive fun against Mejia and three other Mets relievers before Bobby Parnell came in with two out and no one on in the eighth and stopped the Cubs from scoring more runs. Interestingly, Mike Quade had James Russell get up and join Carlos Marmol in the bullpen in case the Cubs had scored enough to take the save situation away. This is not a criticism of Lou Piniella, but he probably would not have done that, letting Marmol pitch anyway.

As it turned out, the Cubs did not score and Marmol came in and struck out the side (and allowed a single to Davis). His 118 strikeouts are now more than any Cub who has pitched exclusively in relief except for Bruce Sutter, who struck out 129 in 1977 (in 107.1 innings; Marmol has, to date, thrown 65.1 innings).

Starlin Castro went 2-for-4 and raised his average to .321, at this writing two points behind Joey Votto and ten behind Carlos Gonzalez. The wild card in the batting race is the Braves' Omar Infante, who is hitting .341 but with only 383 plate appearances, not enough to show up in the qualified leaders -- yet.

The wind died down a bit from yesterday, though gave both home run balls today a bit of a boost, and bright sunshine beamed down on about 30,000 of the announced 39,473 (my estimate of how many were actually in the park). A handful of people appeared at gate K on Waveland between 2 and 2:30, who had evidently not heard about the change in starting time, thinking they were early for the game, originally scheduled for 3:10. Some of them came in; others just walked away.

One more note on Z. His eight strikeouts today give him 1411 for his career, moving him ahead of Kerry Wood (1407) on the all-time Cub list. Fergie Jenkins leads the list with 2038; Charlie Root had 1432, which Z could eclipse before the end of this season. Will he get a chance to move up further in future years?

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