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That's More Like It: Harden & Bradley Lead Cubs To 7-1 Win

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This team is absolutely maddening.

They play the first two games of the series in San Diego as if they were... well, I dunno, the Cleveland Indians or something.

And then the Cubs come out on Wednesday night and beat the Padres handily, 7-1, with timely hitting, particularly with runners in scoring position, and outstanding pitching from Rich Harden.

Why can't they do this every day? What is it about this team that makes it so inconsistent? They clearly have the talent and ability to play like this every day. This is a mystery that I hope they solve before tonight, when they begin an important four-game series with the Dodgers -- and this may be just the time to hit Dodger Stadium. LA is 7-11 in August (and 9-11 in home games since the All-Star break).

Milton Bradley had one of his best games as a Cub, drawing three walks, scoring twice, hitting his first home run since July 30 and alertly doubling Everth Cabrera off first base in the first inning on a fly ball to short right field. In 28 games (25 starts) since the All-Star break, Bradley is now hitting .301/.431/.441, much more in line with his career norms (.872 OPS, above his .824 career OPS), and with 3 HR, 10 RBI and 18 runs scored. He's hit even better -- .326/.431/.488 -- since being (presumably) permanently moved to the #2 lineup slot 11 games ago. If he can keep up this production through the last 45 games of the year, the Cubs will have the player they hoped they have signed. Best thing about Bradley's year since mid-May is that he has stayed healthy; he has played in 99 of the 118 games and is on pace to play in 130+ games for only the second time in his career.

Rich Harden didn't have his best command last night but was what baseball broadcasters often term "effectively wild"; he walked three but gave up only one single, to Adrian Gonzalez right after Cabrera was doubled off first base in the first inning. After that he was unhittable, and his season ERA at 4.04 is now as low as it has been since April 26, when it was 3.86 after a 10-3 win over the Cardinals. Since the All-Star break Harden is now 3-1, 1.64 in seven starts, with 20 (!) hits allowed in 44 innings, and 55 strikeouts. With only 14 walks and 3 HBP in that time, his WHIP since the ASB is 0.84.

This is the Harden the Cubs had last year, and with other starting pitchers contributing in this way -- all three starting pitchers in the San Diego series had good outings, even Ryan Dempster, whose four runs allowed in seven innings did give his team a chance to win if only they'd had some timely hitting -- the Cubs should be able to win some games.

If only they can put up that timely hitting. Last night they did. Nice to see Aramis Ramirez have a big day (three hits, his 10th HR) and A-Ram is seemingly over the minor shoulder problem he suffered a week or so ago.

The Cubs still trail the Cardinals by six games and are five games off the wild-card pace -- but four games off the loss-column figure in both cases; the Cubs have played the second-fewest games of any team in baseball (118; only the Phillies with 117 have played fewer). The series in LA this weekend is extremely important... and I think it's winnable. Go get 'em, starting tonight.