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Home Runs? Who Needs Home Runs?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this team's offense -- that's for those of you who have been crying out for the Cubs to acquire anyone from Ken Griffey Jr. to Jermaine Dye to Matt Stairs (OK, I'm guilty of that last one myself).

The Cubs pounded out twenty hits today -- not a single one of them a home run -- and took care of the Reds, at last, with a convincing 12-4 win, moving within half a game of first place in the NL Central as the wheezing, but still leading, Brewers got shut out 8-0 by the Cardinals in Milwaukee, getting swept and outscored 28-7 in the three games.

That's right, not a single home run produced twelve runs. The Cubs smashed nine doubles to go with eleven singles; Mark DeRosa had his best day as a Cub with a 5-for-5 day (I heard the WGN radio highlight driving home, and DeRosa got his fifth hit right after Ron Santo asked Pat Hughes whether he'd ever had a five-for-five day, and immediately they BOTH said, "He does now!") and four RBI; Ryan Theriot had perhaps the biggest blow in the 7-run 8th inning with a two-run double (he also scored what was the lead and eventual winning run in the fourth inning after running through a stop sign from 3B coach Mike Quade; scored easily when the throw was offline); Aramis Ramirez also had four hits, raising his average to .322, and Jacque Jones added four of his own, moving his average to a season-high .276 (tacking on eight points today alone). I was gratified when Jones was removed for pinch-runner Felix Pie and got a warm ovation; he tipped his helmet to the crowd. It took a year and three-quarters (since today, the 120th game of the year, essentially marks the 3/4 milepost of the season), but Jones seems at last to be accepted, if not liked, by Cubs fans.

He ought to be, for his performance since the All-Star break: in 29 games (including today's big day) he's hitting .364/.420/.533 with 12 doubles, 2 HR and 24 RBI.

Now explain again to me why the Cubs need more hitters? They scored 26 runs and got 36 hits in the three games against the Reds; if there had been a little more wind on Tuesday and a little better relief pitching on Wednesday, we'd be celebrating a sweep in first place. The only discordant note today was Derrek Lee, who went 0-for-5 and looked bad doing it; I think it wouldn't hurt to give him tomorrow off, just so perhaps he'll stop pressing so much.

This is why I think the Cubs can indeed take care of business this weekend and take three of four from the Cardinals. I like the pitching matchups (and you can bet the ESPN folks are going to have a field day with reaction shots from Z on Sunday night):

Friday: Looper vs. Hill
Saturday: Reyes vs. Marshall
Sunday: Wells vs. Zambrano
Monday: Piniero vs. Lilly
Back to today, for a moment: the Cubs took the early lead with four of the nine doubles in the first inning, but Jason Marquis coughed it up in the second, losing his concentration after getting pitcher Bobby Livingston down 0-2 and walking him. That seemed to unhinge him; he hit Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded, then gave up a RBI single to Jeff Keppinger and another to Ken Griffey Jr., but Keppinger inexplicably stopped at second base, while Griffey thought he was heading to third; Griffey backpedaled but was tagged out. That play seemed to settle Marquis down and he got Brandon Phillips to ground out to end the inning.

After that Marquis threw well for four more innings, allowing two walks and two harmless doubles, before being pulled after the second of those walks led off the seventh. Scott Eyre, Carmen Pignatiello (in his major league debut, facing Adam Dunn, as he should have done last night, and getting him to ground into the exaggerated infield shift; the ball couldn't have been rolled out there better and Dunn beat it out), and Ryan Dempster shut the Reds down for the last three innings.

It was a coolish, cloudy afternoon, though thankfully no rain fell; a few of the Air Force Thunderbirds, rehearsing for this weekend's Chicago Air & Water Show, buzzed the ballpark before the game started. They do this most every year; the most memorable one was about ten years ago, when one of the Thunderbirds flew literally about 100 feet above the upper deck, splitting the light standards; pitcher Steve Trachsel, on the mound and not expecting to see that at that moment, actually ducked. (I believe the game in question was this one.) BCB reader DTJChris, in from Minnesota, sat with us this afternoon -- nice to meet you -- and Mark and a friend of his tagged along; since there was no BP they spent the pregame time trying to get autographs. They came back with balls signed by the Reds' Norris Hopper, and also Ronny Cedeno and Ryan Theriot.

Finally, I wanted to address something that was, legitimately and reasonably, brought up by Chuck from Ivy Chat in the comment thread. He pointed out that if I say today was a "must-win" game, that if the Cubs didn't win, would that mean the season was over?

Of course not, I answered, and I think the problem here is one of terminology, not desire. I think what Chuck's saying is that a game should only be labeled "must-win" if it is, for example, a game that you must win to get into the postseason, like this one, or to get into the World Series, like this one, or to win the World Series itself, like this one.

Point conceded, Chuck. I won't label individual regular season games "must-win" any more (unless, say, it's the last game of the year and the Cubs "must win" to avoid going home for the winter). But we now need a BCB term to indicate a game like this, which was a really-truly-in-the-worst-way-possible-like-to-win-because-it-really-would-feel-awful-if-you-lost game.

You see the problem here, I think. TCCubby in the comments suggested "mojo game" or "statement game" ... hmmmm. Not sure I'm crazy about either of those. "Turnaround game"? Anyone like that? If you've got something better, leave it in the comments; maybe I'll put up a poll with some of the better suggestions.

Anyway, as Mike said to me during the 7-run eighth, it was enough drama; once Theriot made the score 10-4, that was probably "blow-proof", and DeRosa's fifth hit made it a genuine no-brainer, something this club badly needed.

We have the biggest series here in three years beginning tomorrow. Let's win it.