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Walk On By

After Jason Marquis had had yet another one of those innings that you'd think would produce a pitchfork-bearing mob ready to run him out of town -- the first, giving up a double and two-run homer -- I started talking to Dave about whether he'd be tradable, and who would take him.

His response: "I'll make you a small wager he goes six today."

I didn't take the bet, but damned if he wasn't right. Marquis settled down after Adam LaRoche's jack in the first inning, retiring 13 of the next 14 hitters he faced, and givng up only two more hits and an unearned run, finishing with six strong innings and his second win of the year, as the Cubs walked all over the Pirates 4-3, drawing seven walks off Phil Dumatrait, producing all the runs, and then the bullpen performed as Lou had envisioned it in spring training -- Bob Howry in the 7th (shaky, yes, but he got out of it with no runs), a solid Carlos Marmol in the 8th (please, please win some blowouts so that Marmol can sit for a while; that makes 22 appearances in 44 games, way too many), and then the kind of save that we all dreamed about from Kerry Wood when the season began, his 10th -- a ground ball for the first out on two pitches, and then two strikeouts, mixing up fastballs and sliders and breaking pitches.

Eight out of ten on this homestand -- you could get greedy and ask for more, but really, that's about all we could have asked for. It's the first time the Cubs have won eight games on any homestand since 1978, and after winning bunches of games this week with the longball, today the Cubs played small-ball; in addition to the seven walks, the only hits were four singles, one each from Alfonso Soriano (the sixth straight game he's led off with a hit), Mark DeRosa (setting up Kosuke Fukudome on second where he would steal third and score on a Reed Johnson sac fly), Ronny Cedeno (driving in a run), and Fukudome, driving in the fourth run in the fifth inning.

Let's talk a little bit more about the walks. Seven more walks today give the Cubs 201 for the season. That's second in the NL to the Cardinals, but the team OBA -- .373 going into today, and I don't have time to calculate it including today's game, but that's at least seven points better than St. Louis, and is forty points higher than last year's .333, and fifty-four points better than the last season, 2006, under the hackalicious teachings of Dusty Baker. The 2006 squad drew 395 walks all year. The current total is 51% of that -- in 27% of the schedule. If I have time tomorrow, I'll try to put up a Walk-Meter, showing the progress toward passing the execrable 2006 total. The 201 walks are 4.56 per game; I doubt the Cubs can keep up the pace, but that would translate to 740 walks over the full season, a total that would demolish the club record, 650 set in 1975. More history: the Cubs have started 27-17. Since 1900 -- 109 seasons -- only eleven Cub teams have started better than that in their first 44 games:
1907, 35-9
1918, 31-13
1903, 30-14
1910, 29-15
1969, 29-15
1906, 29-15
1904, 28-14 (two ties)
1938, 28-16
1909, 28-16
1977, 28-16
1908, 27-16 (one tie)

In that group there are six pennant winners (1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1938), a team that won 104 games and finished second (1909), two other 90+ game winners (1904, 1969), a team that finished 82-56 (1903), and the only outlier, 1977.

Can you tell this is a special team? They can find many different ways to win, and to me, that's the sign of a team ready to come to the ballpark every day and adapt to the situation. Today, the wind was blowing in and it was coolish and cloudy most of the time -- LaRoche's HR sliced through a pretty good breeze. Otherwise nothing came close to going out of the ballpark all afternoon.

Now it's on to Houston; I asked Dave if he thought they were for real and he said he did. I wonder, due to their pitching; the Cubs won't have to face Roy Oswalt, and now it's uncertain if Oswalt will make his next start against the Phillies on Thursday.

Micah Hoffpauir, called up when Daryle Ward was put on the DL today, made his ML debut pinch-hitting for Marquis in the 6th, wearing uniform #6. He struck out and looked pretty bad doing it, though, to be fair, it's not likely he's going to be sent up against too many LHP in the time he's on the roster.

Rumor heard today: it may not be too long until the Brewers, who lost to the Red Sox 11-7, getting swept and falling into last place, decide they've had enough and fire Ned Yost. Look for this to possibly happen as soon as this week.

Finally -- thanks again to BCB reader Shanghai Badger for picking up the slack I left by forgetting to schedule an overflow comment thread today. Much appreciated. Enjoy and revel in this homestand and this team's play so far.

Click here for my scorecard