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Who Are These Guys?

Lemme get this straight.

After an eight-game stretch in which the Cubs lost six, and scored only 25 runs (a little over three per game), they have now won three in a row, scored twenty-five runs in those games, and hit eleven home runs...

two of them by Mark Grudzielanek???

OK, if this is a dream, don't wake the Cubs up, please!

My buddy Mike always says, "Enough drama, I want a blowout!" OK, he got one last night as the Cubs crushed the Astros 9-2, winning not only their third in a row overall, but their fifth in a row in Houston. This game was so much "in the bag" that Dr. Tightpants was allowed to pitch the ninth inning, which he did with uncharacteristic efficiency (at least compared to his most recent outings), nine pitches, six strikes, a 1-2-3 inning.

They've finally started doing what my friend John from Phoenix said in yesterday's e-mail -- beating up on the clubs that good teams are supposed to beat up on, and they did it again with not only the bats, but the guy who may be this year's best feelgood story, Glendon Rusch.

If not for a Morgan Ensberg smash double down the line in the first inning that just got beyond the reach of Aramis Ramirez, Rusch might have been allowed to finish this game; he hasn't had a major league shutout since 2002 (and only two in his career). The two-run double almost negated the Cubs' two-homer first inning, back-to-back jacks (as Ron Santo must have gleefully yelled on the radio) by Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa, the 28th for each of them, and Sammy does look better at the plate, slowly, each day.

As I mentioned the other day, the 1984 team used to just know it was going to come back from troubled innings and this team's starting to do that. The two first-inning runs were all Rusch would allow, and the power bats just kept on powering after that -- Nomar Garciaparra to LF in the third (after a CF single in the first -- this guy has absolutely incredible bat control), then Grudz' pair-o-solo-shots, and for good measure, Corey Patterson finished it up with a two-run job.

This Houston team looked tired, dispirited, beaten, a far different team than the one I saw two months ago on my trip to Houston. Even just watching via TV, you could see this team's just about quit on the season. They are now six games behind the Cubs, under .500 by a game, and the way they're playing they'll be lucky to finish with a winning record. They remind me a little bit of the 1973 Cubs, who were at the end of the line of several years of contention, and who tried to squeeze one last contending year out of a veteran team. Like this year's Astros, that team went out to an early division lead -- at one point leading by 8.5 games -- but flopped badly in the second half. The Astros did just get finished sweeping the Phillies, another team expected to contend that's just about run out of gas.

I kinda feel sorry for Roger Clemens, who could have had one of the best sendoffs for a retired player in sports history, with his World Series win last year. Instead, he'll play for a team that's going to finish no better than third in its division and he'll watch the postseason on TV for the first time since 1998. Just for that reason, I bet he comes back next year to try to redeem himself. The Cubs won't face him in this series, but due to this year's bizarre schedule, the Cubs face Houston again starting Thursday at home, and Clemens, who will start Monday as scheduled, should be on target to pitch on Saturday the 28th.

The Cubs' two competitors for the wild-card, the Giants and Padres, both won last night, so the Cubs remain a half game behind San Francisco (though with one fewer loss) and a game ahead of the Padres.

The conventional wisdom says the schedule favors the Cubs. Now's the time to continue taking advantage of that.