In many other years Derrek Lee might have turned his hot streak into a slot on the NL All-Star team, but there are too many other first basemen who got off to better starts than D-Lee did and still have better numbers.
Lee, though, is doing his best to catch up. When the game began on May 1 he was hitting .189. Since then, in 50 games he has 15 HR with 43 RBI and is hitting .326/.406/.611 (1.017 OPS), definitely All-Star numbers. I'm sure he won't mind the three-day break, and here's an amazing stat that was mentioned on the postgame show: he has hit four home runs in his last six first innings. That's the way to get the team off to a good start, and the Cubs have won five of those six games.
Last night was no exception; Lee's homer produced two first-inning runs, the Cubs added two in the second and Randy Wells threw six more solid innings, resulting in a 4-2 win over the Braves, the Cubs' sixth win in their last eight.
The win also brought the Cubs to within two games of first-place St. Louis and one game of second-place Milwaukee. The Cubs have still played two fewer games than the Brewers and four fewer than the Cardinals. Those two teams face each other the next three days in Milwaukee. As the poll in cubswgnrocks' FanPost indicates, the best scenario for the Cubs is for the Brewers to win two of three. I'm much more worried about the Cardinals than the Brewers, especially considering Milwaukee's GM publicly called out one of his best players. The Brewers seem to do quite a bit of this; remember last year when Ned Yost whined and complained about CC Sabathia not getting a no-hitter? The Brewers lost 15 of 19 after that day and it cost Yost his job.
Anyway, enough about our rivals to the north. Last night was yet another game with many contributors. Kosuke Fukudome had a pair of hits and a walk and looked really good swinging the bat. If he can keep this up -- he looked last night as he looked early this season (and also early in 2008) -- he'll be very valuable hitting at the top of the order. It's only been three games leading off, but he's 5-for-11 with a walk, a double, a triple, three runs scored and two RBI. It appears that the CF spot will now lead off the lineup -- Lou says Reed Johnson will lead off vs. LHP. The Cubs won't face a lefty till after the All-Star break, though.
Milton Bradley had a pair of walks and made a nice catch up against the wall in right field. Sean Marshall (Lou must have fallen asleep, because he let Marshall throw an entire inning, including facing some right-handed hitters) threw a good inning; Carlos Marmol did issue a walk, but got out of it with a DP; and Kevin Gregg got his 15th save, but not before Brooks Conrad (or was that Conrad Brooks?) stretched him out with a 12-pitch at-bat that included six consecutive foul balls.
Wells threw only 87 pitches in his six innings of work and Marshall and Aaron Heilman were warming up already in the top of the sixth -- I hope this doesn't mean Wells was having any problems. He should be able to go farther than that, as he threw 98 in each of his previous two starts. On the other hand, I can understand why Lou doesn't want someone who has thrown this consistently for 11 starts to get hurt. The Braves were the first team Wells has faced more than once, and he handled them well -- the only real mistake was Nate McLouth's 14th homer of the season.
Since the Pirates series began last week and through this homestand so far, the Cubs have looked more and more like the 2008 version -- solid starting pitching and relief and timely hitting from all parts of the lineup. Keep up the good work. And all this was done yesterday with no contributions at all from Aramis Ramirez, who was greeted with several standing ovations on his return from a separated shoulder. He went 0-for-4 and didn't handle the ball in the field, a quiet way to sneak back into the lineup after missing 50 games. The Cubs went 24-26 and lost no ground in the division race. Time now to begin to make up that ground.