The Cubs finished up yet another successful homestand with a convincing 6-2 win over the Cardinals last night; they won their fourth straight series and starting with the last game of the Marlins series, when they came from behind to win 9-6, they are 11-3.
It likely won't happen this way, but with 44 games remaining in the regular season, winning two of every three -- as they did on this homestand -- would give the Cubs 100 wins. (Not predicting that here -- I can see them going 25-19 for 96 wins, or maybe 26-18 for 97). In any case, once again the ballclub produced a team win, this time getting key hits from Ronny Cedeno (two-run double before getting thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple), outstanding defense (diving catches by Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome), and solid pitching from Ryan Dempster, who also made a couple of slick defensive plays. That's one thing we didn't know very well about Dempster before this year -- how well he plays his position in the field. When you're a closer, as Dempster has been the last three years, you don't get many fielding chances (example: in 2007, he had four putouts and seven assists in 66 games).
The inning where the Cubs blew the game open last night could have been even bigger. Not complaining here, mind you, but the Cubs scored five runs while having two runners thrown out at third base. The key play of the inning was Edmonds' grounder, which could have turned into an inning-ending DP; instead, going under Adam Kennedy's glove for an error, it opened up the floodgates for three more hits, capped by Cedeno's double.
Dempster's 13th win gave him the club lead and if Brandon Webb weren't having such a great year, might give him some Cy Young consideration (he might get that consideration anyway, particularly if the D'backs don't make the playoffs -- Dempster's 13 wins are tied for third in the league, his ERA is fifth, and he's seventh in K's). I was one of the skeptics about transitioning him to the rotation. But he worked very hard over the winter getting into shape and has been the Cubs' most consistent starter all year. He has gone at least six innings in 19 of his 23 starts and has had only one truly bad one -- against the White Sox at the Cell on June 27.
On a night that got Septemberish-cool before it was over (the wind blowing in knocked down several fly balls that otherwise might have made the seats), the lines to get into the bleachers stretched for blocks by the time the gates opened at 5:05; the bleachers were full by 6:00, although the announced attendance for the game, 41,268, was the smallest of the series. That brought the season total to 2,525,174, an average of 40,728, with nineteen dates remaining on the home schedule. If that average is maintained -- and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be -- the team attendance record, set last year, will fall on September 19, with two games remaining.
We have all seen amazing baseball at home -- the win brought the home record to 45-17, tying Tampa Bay (whose 71st win, equalling the Cubs' total, set a franchise record yesterday, with 44 games to go) for the best home record in the majors. Like the Rays, the Cubs have had trouble winning on the road, so this upcoming road trip will be a good test for them. They swept the Braves at Wrigley Field in June, and Atlanta's been decimated by injuries and the trade of Mark Teixeira. I'm sure the Cubs won't take anyone for granted, but the Braves are beatable. A bigger test will be the trip to Florida next weekend; the Cubs have not won there since July 10, 2005. Lou and the staff can spend this off day deciding how to work the rotation around the two off days, today and next Monday. They also have to make a decision about Dome, who has virtually stopped hitting (.107, 3-for-28, in August so far). He's still playing excellent defense, has a good .369 OBA and his production is league-average with an OPS+ of 100, but Lou says he has to produce:
"We need him to start hitting," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said before Sunday night's 6-2 win against the Cardinals. "If not, I'm going to have to start looking for other options."
And that was said before last night's game in which he went 0-for-4.
The Cubs play 25 of the remaining 44 games on the road. They're going to have to play better there, especially with the Brewers finishing up a series with the horrid Nationals this afternoon and playing the NL West-trailing Padres at San Diego after that. Enjoy the off-day; you know the Cubs will.