MILWAUKEE -- We had 'em outnumbered at Miller Park last night, or nearly so.
At least it felt as if there were more Cubs fans than Brewers fans last night during the Cubs' 7-2 win over Milwaukee, the team's fourth victory in a row, moving their division lead back to a more comfortable four games and matching the season high by getting to 20 games over .500.
The Cubs were on base seemingly everywhere, all night long. In fact, they could have scored far more than the seven runs they did; they had 23 baserunners (14 hits, 8 walks and Reed Johnson reaching on a dropped third strike); fifteen of them were left on base and Ryan Theriot was caught stealing, which accounts for the seven runs.
That caught stealing was just about the only thing Theriot did wrong last night. He made a couple of nice plays in the field and had three hits and three RBI, including what was probably the biggest Cub hit of the game, a triple into the right-center field gap that Corey Hart got a really bad read on that drove in two runs in the Cubs' three-run sixth, the inning that broke open what had been a pretty good pitchers' duel between Ryan Dempster and Manny Parra up to that point.
Dempster, as he has been in virtually all his starts this year, was outstanding, mixing up his pitches well and making really only one mistake -- throwing a wild pitch with Ray Durham on third base in the first inning, allowing the Brewers to score the only run they'd get until Prince Fielder homered off Neal Cotts for a consolation run in the 9th. Other than that, Dempster allowed only four other hits, and two of them were extra-base rockets by Parra, who isn't really known as a hitter (he was hitting .179 coming into last night's game).
If Dempster keeps this up he'll get some Cy Young consideration -- and no, I don't think that's hype. Only three pitchers -- Brandon Webb, Edinson Volquez and Aaron Cook -- have won more games; Dempster ranks sixth in ERA, eighth in strikeouts, and has the fifth-lowest WHIP of any NL pitcher currently qualified (with 108 innings or more). Of course, Carlos Zambrano is among the leaders in those categories as well and both Dempster and Z should get Cy Young votes. I wasn't one of those who thought the Dempster-back-to-starter experiment was going to work, but now, exactly two-thirds of the way through this so-far wonderful season, it has been an unqualified success, and is one of the reasons this team has played so well.
In addition to Johnson and Dempster, Alfonso Soriano was one of the "stars of the game" last night, with three hits and a stolen base; he appears to be running well, perhaps for the first time since that first injury with the Cubs on April 17 of last year. The forced rest for his legs for six weeks while his broken finger healed was apparently a very good thing; Soriano stole third base last night (foolishly, I thought at the time, as ball four was being delivered to Derrek Lee, but he made it) and seemed to be running the bases much better the other four times he was on, five times on base in all via three hits and two walks; the Cubs drew eight walks and forced five Brewer pitchers to throw 190 pitches.
I ran into BCB reader hoppy91 in the Metavante Club, where I went to eat before the game. That's amazing -- naming rights sold off for a team's club eating area -- up to this year it was called the ".300 Club"; there are tons of ads all over Miller Park. I counted, in addition to the ribbon board and other "moving" ads, thirty different fixed ads in the outfield. Anyway, hoppy99 is in Milwaukee for this series from Manitoba, Canada, and made it on ESPN's telecast wearing the BCB shirt. Also had a talk with BCB reader Shanghai Badger, who stopped by my seat in section 225 before last night's game.
As noted above, the crowd seemed to be more than half Cubs fans; maybe that was because I was looking for them or maybe because Brewer fans had little to cheer about last night; starting after the 7th inning, the place started to empty out and after the Cubs' two-run 9th that put the game away, virtually everyone left was wearing Cubs blue. Loud cheers erupted on the ramps exiting the park; I doubt any of us could have imagined that the first three games of this series would go so well.
Only one discordant note -- Kerry Wood was going to throw a simulated game yesterday, but didn't and is not "close" to returning. And if you read Lou Piniella's typically cryptic quotes in that link, you'll be even more confused:
"Initially, they had talked about a simulated game, bringing a few hitters here, and let him get some work in with a pad on his finger," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "That didn't happen, because he's really not close to coming back, so why risk it?"
"When I say 'not close,' it's not imminently close," Piniella said.
Fortunately, the rest of the bullpen has picked up the slack; Chad Gaudin, who threw another scoreless inning last night, has been excellent and can step right in to an 8th inning setup role, which is where he pitched last night. Both Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Marmol got last night off and so are available today.
Rich Harden, who has pitched extremely well in his three starts as a Cub without a victory to his own credit yet, goes today. He has struck out ten in each of the three games -- 30 in all in 17.1 innings, with only eight hits and eight walks allowed for an ERA of 1.04 and a WHIP of 0.92. Some SABR research has found that only one pitcher -- Jake Peavy from April 25-May 11, 2007 -- has struck out ten or more in four straight starts in the last four years (both Randy Johnson and Johan Santana did this in 2004). But more importantly, let's get Harden a win. The pregame thread will be up at 11:30 CT.