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Thanks For The Win, Kevin Hart, Now Here's Your Ticket To Pittsburgh: Cubs Pound Astros Again 12-3

For those of you who want to discuss today's Cubs trade with the Pirates, go to this post just below this recap.

For the rest of you, a bit of discussion of today's 12-3 Cubs blowout of the Astros, which concluded a 6-1 homestand, would be a nice ending to this afternoon.

Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome were two of the biggest hitting heroes today -- Theriot drove in four runs with a double, sac fly and groundout, and Fukudome singled, doubled and tripled, also knocking in four runs. There was plenty of longball power to go around, too -- Jake Fox and Milton Bradley went back-to-back in the Cubs' five-run third inning; Bradley's batting average pushed over the .250 mark for the first time this season and he also made a couple of nice catches of Astros fly balls with his back against the ivy.

All told the Cubs pounded out 13 hits and drew six walks against an Astros pitching staff that has allowed ten or more runs ten times this season -- and two days in a row to the Cubs. It's gotten so bad for Houston that they released today's starting pitcher, Russ Ortiz, following his horrendous performance in which he allowed nine hits, three walks and nine earned runs in 2.1 innings; Ortiz took 68 pitches to record seven outs.

Kevin Hart didn't have his best stuff today -- though he issued only two walks, he also hit two batters and barely survived a shaky second inning in which the Astros took a 1-0 lead and had the bases loaded with one out. Hart got Ortiz, in what very well may be his final major league at-bat, to hit into an inning-ending double play, and then the Cubs opened up on Ortiz in the bottom of the second. Even Hart's at-bat in that inning, in which he hit with the bases loaded after Koyie Hill was intentionally passed, nearly produced a couple of runs; Hart lined a rocket that Kaz Matsui snared just before it landed in right field for a hit. Hart did smack a single to right field in the five-run third.

So thanks, Kevin, and good luck in Pittsburgh, where you're likely going to be the #3 starter behind Zach Duke and Paul Maholm -- that is, if Duke isn't traded before tomorrow's deadline; there have been plenty of rumors about that happening. What must it be like to be a Pirates fan right now? They've traded virtually every recognizable name on the team; the only starting players left from Opening Day are Ryan Doumit (who spent a lot of the year on the DL), Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss. Ronny Cedeno, who is hitting .167 with a .213 OBA, is their starting shortstop.

The Cubs have done what they needed to do in this homestand -- beat up on inferior teams. Though the Astros came in with an over-.500 record, they are clearly not very good, especially with Lance Berkman out; today's blowout gives them a -48 run differential, which is pretty bad for a team that had pretensions of diving back into the NL Central race until this series. Despite Milwaukee's 7-3 win over Washington today, I don't see the Brewers as serious contenders, either. (Not to mention that splitting a four-game series with the worst team in baseball in your home park isn't a way of screaming "contender", either.) There seems to be something missing from that club (in addition to a horrendous pitching staff); in my opinion the NL Central is now a two-team race.

Today's announced crowd of 41,524 was the second-largest paid crowd of the season, just short of yesterday's 41,538, the largest. It does seem odd that the two biggest crowds of the year would be on weekday afternoons vs. Houston, but the likely explanation is that those games would not have a lot of requests from players & team employees for freebies, so those tickets go on general sale. There were long lines at the day-of-game ticket windows on Waveland today even after game time, likely explaining the high paid attendance. There were some empty seats, likely reflecting the forecast of rain, and when a light rainshower hit the park in the bottom of the 8th inning, Wrigley Field emptied out faster than that "cheap brand" ketchup in that Heinz commercial from years ago.

It won't get any easier when the Cubs visit Florida this weekend; the Marlins have a good pitching staff and they are only two games off the wild-card lead. Take two of three down there and then we're really talking about a run that could be sustained for some time. The Cubs' 11-3 record since the All-Star break is the best in the NL (1/2 game better than the Phillies, pending their game vs. the Giants tonight). Onward -- things are looking up!