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Almost Flawless: Cubs 7, Braves 2

If I had told you, last June 16, when the Cubs were five games under .500, 6 1/2 games out of first place, and Carlos Zambrano threw a complete game in a 1-0 loss to the Padres at Wrigley Field (the same game in which Derrek Lee and Chris Young had their famous fight), that the Cubs' next complete game would be thrown by Ryan Dempster, almost exactly a year later, and it would put the team eighteen games over .500... well, you'd have put me away. (The Cubs, incidentally, are 96-65 since that game, a record that precisely matches what they did in their 1984 NL East title campaign.)

The Cubs' last complete game in a victory was thrown by Jason Marquis, also by 1-0, a shutout of the Pirates at Wrigley Field on May 9, 2007, where the only run was provided courtesy of a leadoff home run by... Alfonso Soriano.

And that is where we pick up the story of last night's 7-2 Cubs win over the Braves, because despite the terrific pitching of Dempster -- who threw a 119-pitch gem, striking out 11 and walking none -- most thoughts this morning are with Alfonso Soriano, who got hit by a Jeff Bennett pitch in his second at-bat and broke the fourth metacarpal on his left hand, sidelining him for up to six weeks. (Further discussion of this injury on this site: here and here.

This began the discussion in our group in the bleachers last night of who might replace him, ranging from Kenny Lofton (he'd ask for too much money, and would he go away quietly after six weeks?), Barry Bonds (NO! for many different reasons), and even Sammy Sosa (um, no, also). This team is resilient and will survive this loss. Soriano is maddening at times, with his occasional dropped fly balls and wind-whipping whiffs, but there is no doubt he can carry a team for weeks at a time, which he did during the mid-May homestand and last September.

The Cubs will likely recall Micah Hoffpauir, which they were probably going to do anyway with the upcoming trip to AL (read: DH) cities Toronto and Tampa. The Iowa Cubs were in Memphis last night -- whether a call was made already and Hoffpauir got a flight out early this morning, I don't yet know. The team was going to send Kevin Hart down after today's game with the DH coming up, so that likely means two I-Cubs are coming with the team on the road trip. Will it be Matt Murton, who could start in LF? Will it be Eric Patterson, who can play several positions and hits lefthanded? It could, I suppose, be someone like Josh Kroeger, who also hits lefthanded and could play left field and who, unlike Murton, has actually shown some power at Iowa this year (.483 SLG to Murton's .395), and Lou seems to crave lefthanded power. Kroeger, however, is not on the 40-man roster and it's full right now, so someone would have to be let go (why is Jake Fox still on the 40-man?). Or how about... Felix Pie?

My suspicion is that the Cubs will fill from within for now -- they could, from time to time, as they did last night, put Mike Fontenot at 2B and Mark DeRosa in LF, which also happened ten times when Soriano was out with his leg problems in April (the Cubs went 8-4 with DeRosa as their starting LF). They could also play Reed Johnson in LF with Jim Edmonds in CF, if necessary.

This is, and has been, a tough and always ready team -- they looked sharp last night in coming right at Atlanta starter Jeff Bennett, scoring seemingly at will in the first three innings, the big blow being Kosuke Fukudome's first-inning three-run homer, which was difficult to see from where we were sitting into the glare of the early-evening sun still shining brightly onto the right-field bleachers. At the time, too, the wind was blowing in -- it had shifted off the lake in the wake of an area of rain that had drifted north of the ballpark and dropped the temperature about 15 degrees. Later the wind shifted back to the south, blowing out; this might have helped the two-run HR that Braves backup catcher Corky Miller pinch-hit off Dempster in the seventh (how unlikely was that? Miller came into the game 2-for-32 this year and is a .185 lifetime hitter in 308 AB scattered across eight seasons with four teams).

Signs spotted last night: a big yellow sign reading "WE ♥ SORIANO" -- after his injury the resourceful group who had it got out a marker, put a circle with a line through it over the ♥, and wrote "DAROSA" on the back. Also spotted, a young woman holding up a sign reading "CSN I'M 18 TODAY" and her friend next to her with one that had an arrow pointing to her and reading "FONTENOT: SHE'S FINALLY LEGAL!" Truth be told, both these women looked older than Fontenot does.

Fun, right? Isn't that what this season has been? The Cubs will miss Alfonso Soriano, but they'll be just fine. That's the method of the 2008 Cubs. Hats off to Ryan Dempster this morning. He threw a great game and gave the bullpen the night off, which they sorely needed. Let's sweep this series today.

Nice try!
Kosuke Fukudome just misses a Brian McCann foul ball in the 2nd

Oh, no!
Alfonso Soriano hit by Jeff Bennett's pitch (note ball on ground)

Mike Fontenot, running for Soriano, scores

Nice grab!
Jim Edmonds catches Yunel Escobar's fly ball in the 8th

Cubs win!

Click on photos to open a larger version in a new browser window. All photos by David Sameshima