The Houston Astros came into Wrigley Field Monday night advertised as the worst team in baseball, 40 games under .500 and on a streak of winning just six times in their previous 41 games.
The Cubs came into Monday night's game having won just once (last Thursday) in August, going 1-10 this month.
Which awful team would fold under the tremendous pressure of the battle for last place in the NL Central (which, truth be told, wasn't much of a battle with the Cubs holding a 7½-game lead)?
The Astros, of course. They truly are as bad as advertised. Not one of the starting players in Houston's lineup Monday night had even as many as 800 career at-bats. They totalled 57 career home runs (and then, of course, their only home run of the game, accounting for the only run, was hit by Brandon Barnes, his first major-league blast).
I shouldn't make fun, not too much fun, anyway. The Astros have done an even bigger tear-down job than this year's Cubs have; in their starting lineup Monday was really just one player who could be considered a building block for Houston's future -- second baseman Jose Altuve, who might be the only major-league player shorter than Tony Campana (Altuve is actually listed at 5-5; Campana probably is about 5-5, even though listed at 5-8).
Jeff Samardzija breezed almost effortlessly through seven innings, giving up just four hits -- three singles and that home run to Barnes -- and striking out 11, tying his career high. Just one Astro (besides the home run) got past first base, thanks to a couple of double plays.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were scoring pretty much at will. Darwin Barney smashed a two-run homer into the quite chilly (for August, at least) air in the second inning that landed about four rows and half a section over from us; those were all the runs the Cubs needed, as it turned out. Barney had another single and also drew two walks. Alfonso Soriano also hit a two-run homer off Astros starter Armando Galarraga, whose presence was "honored" by the Miller Lite billboard across Sheffield, which read "Essential For A Perfect Game" (sorry, with all the rain, I never did get a photo of this).
Anthony Rizzo had his second four-hit night of the season, driving in a run and scoring one. Brett Jackson struck out twice more, but at the very least, he's proving himself a competent major-league center fielder. If he can just cut down on the strikeouts and learn to hit major-league pitching, he can at the very least become a useful major-league regular.
It rained lightly for most of the time after the gates opened, cancelling batting practice, but stopped around 6:20, giving the grounds crew time to get the field in shape for a game that started only a couple of minutes after the scheduled 7:05 time (no official delay was noted). The announced tickets-sold crowd was 31,452, which is the smallest yet this season, and even that number might have been bumped up a bit by the Starlin Castro bobblehead giveaway (slightly out-of-focus photo here). There couldn't have been more than about 18,000 in the house, which is actually a lot considering the Cubs' bad play, the weather and the quality of the opponent.
The Cubs have a shot at sweeping this series (as they did in June at Wrigley over the Astros). I admit, that's not saying much. As long as progress is being made toward the ultimate goal, even if that's a few years away, adding a couple of wins to this year's meager total is enjoyable to watch.