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Quiz Time!

The Cubs played two games today.

One was against a seventeen-game winner.

The other was against a guy who came in with a 4.61 ERA and hadn't started a game in six years.

Which game did they win?

Why, of course, the one against the seventeen-game winner, as they beat up Carl Pavano pretty good and won 5-1, with Mark Prior throwing one of his best games of the year, and not a moment too soon. I will, of course, quibble a bit with Dusty leaving him in for 129 pitches, but maybe he needed a game like that.

Against David Weathers, a reliever having such a bad year that he was traded by a bad team and then unconditionally released by another contender, the Astros, the Cubs looked like they were facing Roger Clemens, and lost the 2nd game 5-2. Weathers gave up only two hits in five innings, and the Cubs remembered that Matt Clement had started the game, not scoring any runs. Clement was gone early, after not having any control in the first inning, walking Juan Pierre to lead off the game (always a bad idea), then hitting Jeff Conine, and, rattled (you can always tell when Matt is rattled -- he goes and stomps around the back of the mound, which ought to be a signal for Michael Barrett to come out and settle him down), he gave up a three-run homer to Damion Easley, and for all intents and purposes, that was the game.

Give the ballclub credit -- they actually got a hit off Armando Benitez in the ninth, a Sammy Sosa single. That's notable because Benitez has been nearly unhittable all year, allowing only 31 hits in 65 innings. Then Todd Walker, who hasn't been all that good as a pinch-hitter, sent Juan Encarnacion over the right-field wall to catch what would have been a two-run homer. When Barrett then struck out to end the game, Nomar was on deck to pinch-hit -- maybe a sign that he'll be ready to play in Pittsburgh, though Neifi Perez has done a terrific job filling in.

I got an e-mail today from reader Richard Murphy, in which he neatly sums up the frustrations we all have with Corey Patterson, who last week looked like he had finally figured it all out, and looked great in the first game and lousy in the second:

Corey has a world of talent but I think he may be this generation's Shawon Dunston. Since his two homer game he has been abysmal, going 2 for 23 and striking out ten times. Corey's problem is that he's not getting any better. He will strike out 160 times this year (bad enough for a #3 hitter, inexcusable for a leadoff man); with any effort at all a good hitter could cut that down by 50 or 60. Not running on the fourth strikeout yesterday should've gotten him pulled. But that's Corey's problem. He doesn't care. He's going to do it his way, and if he doesn't lose his stubbornness it means he'll be about 60% of the player he could be. He has paid lip-service to changing his style with token efforts at bunting, but Neifi Perez makes him look like a little leaguer at that skill. I cringe every time he hits a homer because it reinforces that looping, uppercut, uncontrolled swing.

The best point made here, I think, is about the homers. Corey's got 23 and yes, he has won a couple of games this year with them. But he is NOT a home-run hitter, and the faster he realizes that, the better.

I wound up listening to part of the first game on the radio as I was going to pick up Rachel from school today. Dave Otto was filling in for Ron Santo, who's resting up from a heart scare over the weekend (and he thinks going to New York, which he hates, is going to help?).

Otto wasn't very good as a TV analyst in the two years that Steve Stone spent away. But he worked very well with Pat Hughes, and I do like his studio work for Fox Sports Net. He's a very capable backup announcer, at least on the radio side.

Also today, a package arrived from Daytona, Florida -- as promised, Andy Rayburn, the owner of the Cubs' affiliate in the Florida State League who Jeff and I met in the bleachers last month, sent me a team cap and a "2004 First-Half Champions" T-shirt. Thanks, Andy!

Going into this doubleheader (which had an announced crowd of 37,412, which reflects for the most part what the Marlins would have had for the Saturday 9/4 game -- they had announced that tickets for that game would be valid for this date unless you told them otherwise. Most of that number, I'd say, did attend, though hardly anyone for the entire DH.), I said I'd have been satisfied with a split. But you know what, after taking three of four in Cincinnati and winning the first game against one of the league's top pitchers, a split is a disappointment.

What's even worse is that after hanging on to the lead in the loss column over the Giants for more than two weeks, the second-game loss, while it maintained the half-game deficit, made the two clubs even in the loss column, with the Astros only a half-game further behind the Cubs.

By Thursday we ought to find out a lot more about the direction this race will take. The Cubs are playing the Pirates, who have given them fits this year (though after the sweep last week, the Cubs are 10-5 against them), and the Astros must visit San Francisco to play the Giants, who won two of three in Houston earlier this year.

The Cubs' next ten games are all against bad teams, all of whom the Cubs have dominated this year (21-10 vs. New York, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh), and I see no reason they shouldn't go at least 7-3 in those ten games, which would bring them home for the final series against the Braves with a 90-69 record, and I don't see either Houston or San Francisco doing that well over their next week and a half. The Marlins and Padres have already lost more games than that, so they'd pretty much have to go on ten-game winning streaks to match any of the top three contenders.

So, there it is, laid out in front of us. Fasten your seat belts.