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A Harden Luck Pitcher: Cubs 0, Diamondbacks 2

Well, that was a waste of time.

No, not Rich Harden's effort in the Cubs' 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, continuing Bank Holding Company Ballpark's reputation as a Cub house of pain -- the Cubs are now 13-26 there, and that doesn't include the two playoff losses there last year. I wasted my time staying up to watch; it was a fairly quick game at two hours and 18 minutes, ending by 11:00 pm CT, but ultimately a dissatisfying loss, another one where I shut the TV off immediately after Aramis Ramirez grounded out to end the game.

Harden was magnificent. He mixed his pitches up well, had excellent velocity, and probably could have (and considering Bob Howry put the game further out of reach in the 8th, probably should have. Told you I don't trust Howry!) thrown another inning, having reached 112 pitches, but walked only two, and you know how I sometimes say "one bad pitch"? That was literally true for Harden last night -- he got a pitch up on D'backs RF Alex Romero, and he homered, the first of his major league career (which consists of all of 65 at-bats). Harden had no-hit stuff last night and until Romero's HR, I thought he had a shot at one. He's now thrown 12.1 innings as a Cub, allowed six hits and a walk and one run, struck out 20 -- and has a no-decision and a loss to show for it.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were hitting Randy Johnson. No, really, they were -- hitting fly ball after fly ball right at people, and Chris Young did make a couple of nice running catches. I kept thinking one or more of those fly balls had to fall in, but they never did. The Cubs' only two hits were a leadoff single by Jim Edmonds in the 3rd, and a leadoff single by Reed Johnson (what's with that Fu Manchu, buddy?) in the 4th. Harden laid down a nice sacrifice bunt to advance Edmonds to 2nd, but he was stranded... and that was it till the 9th, when a leadoff walk and an error put runners on first and second with nobody out. But D-Lee hit into his 20th DP of the year and A-Ram, in a huge slump (2 for his last 30 and down to .271), ended it with the groundout. Those guys have got to step up with Alfonso Soriano out, and they haven't. Randy Johnson is now 13-0 lifetime vs. the Cubs, and this is likely his last regular season start against them; according to Len & Bob, the only other pitcher in history to have at least ten career starts vs. the Cubs without a defeat is Sal Maglie, who pitched for good Giants and Dodgers teams in the 40's and 50's when the Cubs were mostly bad. Give Johnson credit -- he was sharp last night and made the pitches he wanted to make. He's not what he used to be (when Johnson made his ML debut on September 15, 1988, Rich Harden was not quite seven years old), but for one night, he recaptured some of his past brilliance. One more historic note: Rich Harden is now the first pitcher in Cubs history to record ten strikeouts in each of his first two starts with the team.

Really, if Lou wants to jumpstart this offense, he'd forget about the plan to have Soriano head to Tucson (where there is a chance of rain tonight) where Iowa is playing tonight, and just have him activated and start in LF in Phoenix. Instead, here is Lou's brilliant idea:

"Tuesday Time Change. No Batting Practice."

After watching another night of meager offensive production -- this time against a 44-year-old former power pitcher using the Cubs for his personal Hall of Fame pass -- Piniella said he's taking the bats out of his hitters' hands before the game again.

Well, who knows? Maybe it'll work. In any case, perspective: the Cubs still lead the NL Central by two games even though they have now lost four of their last five. And in those five games, they have allowed twelve runs, so the issue isn't with the pitching staff -- they've been good to outstanding over those five games. Except for the outburst on Sunday, the Cub offense has been mostly missing in action... and a lot of that is because of missing Soriano. Including the June 11 game when Soriano was hit (because he played only one inning of that game), the Cubs are 17-17 since he went down; they were 2.5 games ahead on that date and 2 games ahead now.

Get Soriano back. Today. Don't waste more time. He's needed.