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Indiana Lee And The Kingdom Of Homers: Cubs 3, Astros 5

I thought the Cubs were off today!

I thought the Cubs were off today, but according to the schedule above, they're playing Indiana Jones. (And the way things have gone the last two days, he'd probably hit a three-run homer off Jose Ascanio.)

Last night, it was the intrepid Carlos (Let's Call Him Indiana Just For The Heck Of It) Lee who sent the Cubs to their second straight loss, 5-3 at the hands of the Astros. As good as the Cubs have looked at home, they've struggled on the road -- haven't won a road series since sweeping their first road series of the year at Pittsburgh.

Thank heavens they're headed back to Pittsburgh this weekend, right?

The game started out well, with Derrek Lee (who was supposed to get the day off, but likely talked his way back into the lineup) hitting a two-run HR in a three-run first inning. In the bottom of the first, Ryan Theriot made a catch of a C. Lee foul popup tumbling into the seats down the LF line to end the inning. Hero, right?

Nope, goat. In the very next half-inning, Theriot singled with two out and promptly got picked off. No big deal, right?

Yes, big deal. The Cubs didn't get another baserunner until Micah Hoffpauir doubled leading off the seventh, and by then Carlos Lee had slammed a three-run homer off Sean Gallagher (on an 0-2 pitch), giving Houston a 4-3 lead, which they extended to 5-3 in the fifth on a sequence that finally got Lou to say, "Enough!" and pull Gallagher... Lance Berkman, who had been 0-for-9 in the series, got hit, and stole second when, apparently, everyone in blue jerseys fell asleep for about five seconds. Temporary narcolepsy? That's the only explanation I can think of, because Berkman has never been known as a speed guy (he's been running more this year; that was his 9th steal of the season, equalling his career high).

Anyway, Geoff Blum then singled him in and Lou yanked Gallagher. The bullpen (Michael Wuertz, Scott Eyre, Jon Lieber and Bob Howry) did a good job of keeping the game within reach, throwing 3.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts, although Wuertz had some trouble finding the strike zone, loading the bases with two out before striking out Shawn Chacon to finish the inning.

It seems time to revisit the fifth spot in the rotation; Gallagher has now had only one good start out of three, and there are other options without acquiring someone from outside the organization -- Lieber, Sean Marshall or Kevin Hart.

Which brings me to this week's Sports Illustrated, which has, I think, their best cover in years:

Bizarro baseball!

Tom Verducci's cover article says, among other things:

The Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins, which according to are the three youngest teams in baseball when it comes to position players, were a combined 74-57 (.565) through Sunday, with a total payroll cost of $167 million. The three oldest clubs, the Blue Jays, Yankees and Tigers, were a combined 60-74 (.448) at a cost of $445 million.

Teams have embraced a new paradigm: The young player is more important than ever before. The success of every-day players from the 2005 draft (Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury, for example) and pitchers from the '06 draft (Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Joba Chamberlain, Luke Hochevar) has persuaded front offices to give opportunities to their youngsters. And teams now love to dole out multiyear contracts -- as long as they go to young players who tend to stay off the disabled list and have their best years ahead of them.

What this is going to mean, essentially, is that come the trading deadline, there are going to be a lot of teams trying to get rid of older players with deadweight contracts. That means there may be some pitching help available. The question is, do the Cubs want to take on another albatross of a contract, when they already have quite a number of large, backloaded deals? If they can acquire a veteran arm and get the other team to eat the money, sure, why not? But if it's going to cost them too much in terms of either money or prospects or both, I'd just stick with the internal options, as noted above (Lieber, Marshall, Hart, or the almost-forgotten Rich Hill, if he's healthy). Speaking of healthy, there are rumors that Carlos Zambrano has something wrong with his shoulder. Not so, as Bruce Miles tells us:

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano went so far Wednesday as to invite reporters to watch him throw his next side session.

Zambrano and the Cubs displayed varying degrees of anger -- from red-hot to blue-flame hot -- over a published report that said the ace of the pitching staff had stiffness in his right shoulder and neck area.

The report listed "shoulder" first, and that's what set the Cubs off.

Zambrano and the Cubs' brass said Zambrano has had nothing more than a stiff neck since his start Saturday against the Pirates. They attributed it to the way he slept.

"I'm not hurt," said Zambrano, who later flexed his muscle. "I feel great. Just check out my outing Friday."

So. Stop worrying. The Cubs still have not lost more than two in a row, and going into Pittsburgh, that's not likely to change. Relax and enjoy the day off, and check out BCB reader gary varsho's off-day fun post.