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... where would the Cubs be?

The worst team in baseball, probably. Carlos Zambrano threw four perfect innings, gave up only two hits and led the Cubs to a nicely-played 4-1 win over the Astros this afternoon, Z's seventh win in a row.

You can't call this win "big" because the Cubs are still floundering twenty games under .500. But:

  • it was their first series win at home since beating the Reds two out of three... two months ago at the end of May.
  • Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez hit back-to-back HR in the third inning. That is the first time the Cubs have accomplished that feat all year. Ron Santo, Pat Hughes and the WGN Radio promotion staff must be ecstatic.
  • Neifi Perez batted second, to the consternation of all, and then hit a double and scored the first run of the game.
  • Z struck out ten and had the Astros handcuffed most of the afternoon; it'd have been nice to see the Cubs' first CG of the year, but after 123 pitches (the scoreboard said 120), it was time for him to give way to Ryan Dempster, who had to make it interesting (a hit and a walk) before getting a comebacker to end it.
I knew it was going to be a good day when I got exactly the same parking space I had last night. This is, if you know the neighborhood, a nearly impossible task. After that, it rained for a good hour after the gates opened (and had, in fact, been pouring rain here in Chicago since about 5 am), but after the rain stopped about 12:15, no more rain fell at all and it became a pleasant, 75-degree, no-wind, just cloudy day.

I sat by myself till Dave & Brian found parking and arrived in the third inning. There was a large group of people who sat in front of me who appeared to be on a corporate outing of some kind. Really, I don't understand why people like this even bother to go to the ballpark. They were too busy playing with squirt guns, a baseball-shaped beach ball (confiscated by security before it could even be bounced once), and drinking beer, to even pay attention to the game. Why bother paying what amounts to a $40 cover charge when you can drink more cheaply across the street?

OK, end rant. Dave & I discussed the club situation in detail, and we agreed that the Cubs appear to be in a place where they could probably play .500 ball for the rest of the season (they are 8-7 so far this month), which would give them about 70 wins -- not very good, but neither would that give them the 100-loss season that everyone here either fears or wants. Dave thinks that doing that might save Dusty Baker's job.

Now, before you think I'm going to rush to Baker's defense here, I'm actually going to reserve judgment on that. Playing .500 ball this season, in the National League at this very moment, gets you two games out of the wild card lead. This is a very mediocre season for NL baseball -- there's only one really good team, the Mets, and another, the Cardinals, which occasionally looks dominant and then looks pretty run-of-the-mill, as they did this week against the Braves. It is a shame that the Cubs couldn't have kept up that .500 pace all year -- and I remind you again, they were 19-40 with Derrek Lee out, and are now 18-17 with him on the active roster (even though he didn't play today, and he's likely not going to be 100% the rest of the year -- must be the psychological value of having him in the dugout or on the field, rather than his actual production).

There are some who might say the Cubs ought to tank the season, lose the 100+ games, and blow the whole thing up. But that's not how professionals in sports act. Whether you see it on the field or not, I do believe that every single major league ballplayer comes to the park to try his best to win on any particular day. And if they don't, they need to find another line of work. I'd rather see the Cubs play a series like the one just ended -- a series they could have swept with a break or two in Wednesday night's game -- than play the way they did in May and June.

Note: Mike Quade, the Iowa manager who will be the 3B coach for a while, wore uniform #81 (which was his spring training instructor number). He is the eighth man in Cub history (and the first non-player) whose last name begins with "Q" (the others: Paddy Quinn, 1877; Joe Quest, 1879-1882; Frank Quinn, 1899; "Wimpy" Quinn, 1941; Jimmy Qualls, 1969; Luis Quinones, 1987; and Ruben Quevedo, 2000).

I do have a couple of pieces of useful information for you to ruminate about until tomorrow's game at Washington. First, regardless of what you think is going on in Jim Hendry's office, my sources say that things are heating up, and there very well may be a deal or two as soon as this weekend. I have no specifics, except that most of the players whose future has been speculated about (Todd Walker, Phil Nevin, Scott Williamson, John Mabry, perhaps others), are still on the table.

And finally, in a throwback to baseball days of yore, the Cubs will take the Amtrak Acela express train from Washington to New York on Sunday, rather than flying. According to this timetable, trains leave Union Station in DC several times in the evening of Sunday, July 23, and take somewhere between two hours, fifty-three minutes, and three hours, twenty-five minutes to arrive at Penn Station in Manhattan.

Between getting to the airport in DC, going through security, waiting for a flight, flying, getting off in NYC, and then taking a bus into Manhattan, the train is probably faster. Apparently, the Nationals do this quite often when traveling to Philadelphia and NYC and it makes a great deal of sense. So if you happen to be making this road trip and you're taking the Acela, look for the Cubs on one of those routes (not sure which one they'd book, but with a 1:05 ET start, most likely not before 6:20 or even 7:20).