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A Smoltz-Free Weekend

Braves closer John Smoltz, who the Cubs never hit when he was a starter, and who sits at the break with 34 saves, possibly ready to take a run at the record (57, by the White Sox' Bobby Thigpen, which has now stood for 13 years), didn't appear in any of the four games this weekend.

This isn't necessarily a good thing, as it meant that all four games were blowouts, including last night's one-sided 7-2 Braves win over the Cubs, which dropped the Cubs to .500 at 47-47 (and me to a personal .500 at 28-28) at the break.

I'm going to try to look at this glass-half-full. The Cubs have a better record than one of last year's division champions (the Twins). They're three games out of first place, hardly an insurmountable lead with 68 games to go.

But there are disturbing signs. The pitching staff, which is supposed to be the strength of this team, gave up a ton of runs to the Braves. This isn't necessarily a bad sign, since pretty much everyone does that (the Braves are 2nd in the NL in runs scored among teams not named Colorado). Dusty Baker has turned into Don Baylor lately, bunting in the early innings, which is ridiculous, giving up outs when the offense is struggling. And Lenny F. Harris got another start last night, and was roundly booed, even when he got a hit, an ultimately meaningless single in the sixth. Let us hope that is his final hit in a Cub uniform.

Chipper Jones hit a line drive off of Antonio Alfonseca's hip in the 9th, and Alfonseca actually wound up pitching better after that happened. Maybe this is what we should have tried a month ago. Jones left town before I could give him the $20 I owe him for doing this (THAT IS A JOKE, INCIDENTALLY!).

Several of my bleacher friends (not from our group; we all sold our Futures tickets, those of us who had them) went to the All-Star Futures game at the Ballmall, then headed back to Wrigley for the night game. Ron said that the park was less than half full despite an announced crowd of 42,983. This isn't a big surprise. Cub "future" David Kelton was the USA team DH and went 0-for-2; it's entirely possible he'll be patrolling center field for the Cubs soon, as "Really-Bad" Hubbard hasn't shown any of the bat he showed us during spring training, going 0-for-7 since his recall.

Otherwise, we were pretty much sitting there depressed most of the evening after the Braves' big rally in the sixth. I did tell Tom that the Cubs were supposed to split series while he's here; he almost seems resigned to seeing the losses, meaning maybe I've finally indoctrinated him as a Cub fan. You'll have to forgive him as he grew up a Mets fan on Long Island, but at least he roots for the Cubs while he's visiting.

We spent much of the rest of the night trying to figure out how we would boo Todd Hundley when the Dodgers come to town in August, since Todd might still be on the DL. Maybe we'll just pick a Dodger and boo Todd by proxy. Or boo Fred McGriff, that is, if he isn't still out. Wonder if the Dodgers would like the Karros/Grudzielanek deal back. Howard left after 7, but not to leave the game; his son Jon was sitting elsewhere in the park with a childhood friend. No, Howard didn't sneak over. He had a ticket for the "other side".

The Cubs must average 37,606 for their remaining 32 home dates to get to 3 million attendance this year. According to the ticket availability page on the Cubs website, approximately 13 dates are already either completely or virtually sold out, which pretty much insures a crowd of around 39,000. Six other dates have fewer than 5000 tickets left. They'll have to continue to contend and get good weather throughout, to reach the 3 million mark. It'll be very, very close.

There's some stuff that happened last night that I know I'm forgetting, but my brain is pretty frozen up after getting home at 10:45 last night and getting up as usual at 3:30 am for work. If I think of this stuff later on, I'll add some notes.

And I will be reporting the next couple of days from the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game, both of which I'll be attending. I'm really excited about just having some fun watching baseball, and especially tonight -- we have primo seats in the CF bleachers, and yes, I'll be bringing my glove.