Yes, I know I was asked to keep bad puns out of headlines, and Brandon Lyon was hardly the biggest reason the Tigers beat the Cubs 6-5 this afternoon (he threw one scoreless inning in relief), but I'm kind of in a mood to lighten up the atmosphere around here after the Cubs suffer a reversal of their sweep of the Indians over the weekend.
The sweep at the hands of the Tigers, who have won seven in a row, puts the Cubs back a game under .500 heading into their final interleague series of the year at the Cell this weekend. The Cubs' interleague record for 2009 stands at 5-6. They aren't alone, either, in the NL Central -- only the Cardinals, at 8-4, have a winning interleague record.
Congratulations to Jake Fox for hitting his first major league home run in the first inning with two men on base. I hope that's the first of many. It should have made today a no-brainer for Ted Lilly, who's been the Cubs' most consistent starter all year. Unfortunately, Theodore Roosevelt decided to choose today to get his own home run pitch out of mothballs, giving up a pair of two-run shots to Ramon Santiago and Magglio Ordonez -- Maggs hadn't hit one in two months. Maybe it was the haircut.
Kevin Hart did a decent job in relief today, though after a pair of walks Lou was forced to summon Sean Marshall to end the inning and attempt to keep the game close. Not long after the last out, large thunderstorms plowed through the Detroit area, too. It would have been interesting had the Cubs tied the game and then the rain came -- the game would have had to be suspended. Oh, well.
Fortunately for the Cubs, the Cardinals lost their second straight to the Mets today, 3-2, so the Cubs remain only 3.5 games out of first place, and still only one down in the loss column. I remind all of you that on June 21, 2007, after losing to the Rangers 6-5 -- a road interleague game started, coincidentally, by Ted Lilly -- the Cubs stood 32-39, 8.5 games out of first place. (Have a look at who hit sixth, seventh and eighth that day, too.) Two other teams who seemed far out of contention on that date, June 21, 2007 -- the Yankees, who were 35-35, and the Phillies, 37-35 -- both made the playoffs in 2007.
Just looking at that June 21 date in other recent years gives us the idea that positions now can have little to do with final standings -- in 2005, Baltimore (42-28) and Washington (41-30) were in first place on that date. Neither came anywhere near the postseason -- the Nats finished at .500 and the Orioles lost 88 games. How about June 21, 2004? The Braves on that date were 32-36, in fourth place. They won 90 games and a division title. (The Cubs, on that date the wild card leader at 39-30... well, you know what happened to that team.)
The point is, there are still 93 games remaining -- more than half the season. The Cubs stand only 3.5 games out in a mediocre division. (Today, the Cardinals managed to get two men on base against Francisco Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth, trailing by one, and still couldn't score.) This division is eminently winnable. But the Cubs need another bat -- and not just Aramis Ramirez's bat, but another one still. Despite Lilly's rough outing today, the starting pitching has still been very good.
In addition to that, the Cubs still have 19 games remaining against the two teams now ahead of them, and 23 left against the three clubs (the Pirates, Diamondbacks and Nationals) currently in last place in their divisions. Start it this weekend against the White Sox. This season is not over. Keep the faith.