Whatever this extended winning streak -- the team's longest since August 2008 -- ultimately means, and whenever it finally ends -- because winning streaks, as long as they get, always do -- I think we can all agree that it's really nice to see the Cubs getting hits in RISP situations, playing good defense and getting good pitching that can get out of jams instead of letting the other team pile up runs.
All of the above and more happened at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon and the Cubs pounded the Reds 11-4 for their seventh consecutive victory.
How is this possible? After spending more than half the season without winning three in a row, the Cubs have a three-game streak and a seven-game streak after the All-Star break, and are now 12-10 post-All-Star Game (and that despite a negative run differential, 92-104, in those 22 games).
Everyone got hits today. Well, everyone except Marlon Byrd, that is; he went 0-for-5 after having Friday off, but still contributed with a nice diving catch in the ninth inning. Every other starting player had at least one hit, and Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano had two each. Carlos Zambrano kicked off the Cubs scoring barrage with a monster-shot home run into the right-center field bleachers in the last of the third, after letting the Reds score two in the top of the inning. It was his second home run of the year; it made 2011 the sixth season in which Big Z has hit at least two home runs. Only eight other pitchers in major league history have done that: Warren Spahn (12 years), Red Ruffing (11), Bob Lemon (9), Earl Wilson (7), Bob Gibson (7), Walter Johnson (7), Don Drysdale (6), and Gary Peters (6).
Big Z had this to say about his home run:
#Cubs Zambrano does not hit cheap HRs. "I'm not Campana, you know. I'm a big man. Inside the parkers, I leave to Campana."
Z's homer was the 23rd of his career, tying him with Walter Johnson for ninth place on the all-time pitcher HR list. Ahead are: Gibson (24), Drysdale (29), Spahn (35), Wilson (35), Ruffing (36), Lemon (37), and Wes Ferrell, who had 38, but only 37 as a pitcher (one as a PH). Lemon had two PH home runs. All of Big Z's are as a pitcher.
Enough of the history, back to today: the Cubs pounded Johnny Cueto, who had thrown six shutout innings against them at Wrigley Field on May 8, for seven hits and five runs in less than four innings. So Cueto, as I noted in this morning's game preview, still doesn't have enough innings to qualify for the league ERA lead -- he needed four -- and the five earned runs raised that ERA from 1.72 to 2.06. The Cubs also drew five walks, including Carlos Pena's with the bases loaded in the fourth, when they batted around. They batted around again in the fifth, when Starlin Castro doubled in a pair. Castro had a season-high four RBI overall, and even when a bad call by Doug Eddings at second base robbed the Cubs of a baserunner in the fourth inning, they wound up scoring a couple more runs anyway.
It rained much of the early morning and the tarp was on the field when the ballpark gates opened Saturday morning; neither team took batting practice. The Cubs, evidently, did not need any, pounding out the 12 hits. During the seven game-streak the Cubs have outscored their opponents 45-25 and have hit 15 home runs.
A couple of notes about the Cubs' opponent today: Brandon Phillips and Drew Stubbs had a nasty collision in short center field after Phillips appeared to catch a popup from Reed Johnson. The hit knocked the ball out of Phillips' glove and Reed was given a double; Phillips tried to stay in the game, but looked shaken up and left an inning later.
Also, Yonder Alonso can hit a baseball a really long way. But he does not belong in the outfield; he looks lost out there, and also looked like he hurt his knee on one play when a Cubs drive rattled around in the corner. After hitting his first major league home run in the sixth inning -- and no, I would not have thrown that one back either -- he departed, possibly to have his knee looked at, as he ran around the bases quite slowly, but also because the Reds were trailing 10-3 at the time.
As far as the Cubs are concerned, though, I don't know why this is happening now and I'm just enjoying the ride, no matter how far the team is out of first place. Today's crowd of 41,978 -- very few no-shows and the SRO area appearing full -- certainly did.
On to tomorrow. For me, eight won't be enough.