Travis Wood of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
It's hard to analyze the second Cubs road series win since before the All-Star break because they were playing the one team worse than they are.
Was what we saw from Travis Wood Wednesday night an indication of progress for him? Is that for real? He had a real shot at a complete-game shutout before he ran out of gas in the eighth inning. But it's only the Astros...
Still, Wood now has posted a 3.20 ERA in 56⅓ innings since August 1, and allowed just six home runs in that span and issued only 13 walks. Keep that up and maybe, just maybe, the Cubs have a back-of-the-rotation starter for several years to come. Wood doesn't turn 26 until February and sometimes lefties mature late (look at Ted Lilly's career for an example, not that I'm saying Wood can be the next Lilly).
The Cubs beat the Astros 5-1, not only winning this series, but now they need win just one of the three season-ending games between the two clubs at Wrigley Field to win the season series. That's not something to laugh at, either, even though I know you want to -- this year's Cubs have the series edge over just three teams: Braves (4-3), Mets (4-2) and Rockies (2-1), and the last one's likely to go when the Cubs visit Colorado later this month.
Alfonso Soriano led the Cubs' offense with three hits, including his 29th home run. His RBI count increased to 96, and that led Len & Bob to say that if somehow the Cubs were in the playoff hunt, Soriano would be in the MVP conversation.
Not really, I'd say. Soriano has good counting stats and has played better defensively this season, but overall, his slugging percentage ranks 16th and OPS 27th in the National League -- hardly MVP numbers. Soriano's had a good year, perhaps his best as a Cub. MVP? Not so much. (To me, Andrew McCutchen's the NL MVP, whether the Pirates make the playoffs or not.)
Soriano made a nice catch against the scoreboard in left and doubled Jason Maxwell off first base, but truth be told, the throw missed the cutoff man and was offline; only a good relay throw got the runner. (And Soriano himself got thrown out on the bases.)
The game was another long haul, three hours and 24 minutes. Must be the Astros' new manager; since Houston changed managers, they've played 22 games (and gone 6-16). 13 of the 22 games have been over three hours, including the last six. Must be all the trudging to the mound by Tony DeFrancesco; Houston used seven pitchers Wednesday night, including Mickey Storey, who was hit in the jaw by a line drive off the bat of Dave Sappelt. Storey was luckier than the Athletics' Brandon McCarthy, who was hit in the head last week and hospitalized; all Storey got was a bruised jaw and hand.
Sappelt was hitting the ball hard all night; he had three hits. Some of you might say, "Hey! There's our fourth outfielder for 2013!"
Yes, but remember: it's only the Astros. Three more games with these guys, and they'll depart the National League (only to be seen again at Wrigley in June 2013, as part of what will be an interleague series).
Enjoy the off-day; you can bet the Cubs will, as they have just one more this season. They'll play 13 of their last 19 games at home, beginning Friday against the Pirates -- Pittsburgh suddenly reeling with a seven-game losing streak.