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In a move designed to improve the Cubs' offense, Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry have officially petitioned the commissioner's office to play the rest of the Cubs' home schedule at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

Wait! Wait! Don't call the Cubs! Don't call Bud! I'm kidding!!

You couldn't blame them if they did this, though. The Cubs have now hit fourteen home runs in four games this year at GABP, and Derrek Lee, Todd Walker and Aramis Ramirez in particular have played the Reds' shiny new playground as if it were a Little League field.

Last night was Aramis' turn -- he smacked two of them (giving him 24 for the year and giving the Cubs the NL club lead in HR over the Reds, 122-121), one of them a two-run shot in the ninth inning that made a semi-tense 5-3 game into a relatively easy 7-3 win over a really, really bad Reds team, the Cubs' eighth win in their last nine games.

That accomplished several things:

  • evened the club record in July at 8-8 after a 0-7 start;
  • moved the Cubs one game closer to the Cardinals, who blew a 4-0 lead and lost to Milwaukee 5-4;
  • moved the Cubs one game closer (four games back, three in the loss column) to the wild-card lead, as the Braves also blew a lead, 3-1, and lost, also 5-4, to the Giants;
  • and perhaps most significantly, the Cubs have moved from thirteenth in the NL in runs scored to fifth, in the last eight games, and now trail NL leader St. Louis by only 39 runs. Team batting average accounts for most of this; the Cubs lead the NL with a .276 average, but are still eleventh with a .330 OBA. (It should be noted here, before certain people complain about this, that if the Cubs can tack four points on to that OBA, they'd be sixth.)
This on another hot, sticky night in Cincinnati, where Mark Prior didn't have his best stuff. Prior gave up a two-run double to Jason LaRue and the Reds had an early lead, and he nearly coughed up a 5-1 Cubs lead in the fifth -- an inning where, as Len and Bob pointed out, he has had big trouble twice this year:
  • May 1 in Houston, where he was one pitch away from getting out of the fifth inning and instead coughed up a Mike Lamb grand slam, highlighting a 5-run Astros inning and the Cubs lost 9-3; and
  • July 7 in Atlanta, where a similar nightmarish five-run inning turned a 1-0 tightly pitched game into a 6-0 blowout.
Other than those two innings, Prior's ERA for the season coming into last night's game was 1.93.

So the Prior strikeout of Ken Griffey, Jr. with two runners on and one run already in, in the fifth inning last night, was probably the turning point of the ballgame -- especially considering that the Cubs had led off each of the first two innings with doubles and left two men on base in each of them without scoring (nine men left on base in total last night), and it appeared that it was going to be another of those frustrating nights.

Messrs. Lee, Walker and Ramirez had other ideas, however. They combined for eight of the eleven Cub hits, and Aramis' two home runs gave him five RBI on the night and 69 for the season, good for eighth place in the NL. Lee is now atop the league in the Triple Crown categories with his 2 RBI last night, giving him 77 (tied with the "other" Lee, Carlos, in RBI).

The Cubs also drew six walks, which means not only are they being selective, but they are getting good pitches to hit. This was also pointed out by Bob Brenly (who, in my opinion, is getting to be a much more incisive analyst with each game he does) -- Brenly claims that the meeting the players had during the 8-game losing streak made the difference, with the players themselves deciding they'd stop going up there being hacktacular, and start waiting for their pitch.

Doesn't matter how that happened, as long as it happened.

Jody Gerut didn't start last night; I still am puzzled as to why Dusty Baker continues to trot Todd Hollandsworth, a nice and talented fellow who simply is not an everyday player, out there every night. Todd "responded" by going 0-for-4. Gerut, for his part, made his Cub debut by pinch-hitting for Will Ohman in the 8th (Ohman, for his part, had done his job by retiring Griffey on a groundout with two runners on after Prior finally had sweated enough for the eveining), and reached on a Joe Randa error -- I thought Randa made a nice play even getting to the ball, and Gerut might have deserved a hit on the play.

Incidentally, did you know that Jody had a blog? OK, it hasn't been updated in over a year, but the entries Jody had written seem thoughtful and give a little insight into the life of a major league player. When the Cubs return home I've asked Brian to introduce me, and perhaps we can get Jody to participate here at BCB.

We also hope we can have him participating in the starting lineup tonight. There's no excuse. A righthander (Aaron Harang) is pitching for the Reds.

Things are looking up. Oddly, even last night's comeback 5-4, 10-inning win by the Phillies, a team the Cubs are chasing, can be viewed as good news. Why is this?

Because if the Phillies keep winning, thus giving them the idea they're still contenders, they'll keep Billy Wagner instead of trading him, say, to the Cardinals. I don't think the Phillies have the staying power to continue to contend, and the Cubs trail them by only half a game.

And bullpen help may be on the way. Scott Williamson is beginning a rehab assignment at Iowa today, and could be ready to be activated within a week or 10 days. This would bolster the bullpen (Roberto Novoa would likely return to Iowa on Williamson's return) without having to give up any players.

Keep the faith, as always.