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A-Ram's Slam, Z's Solid Outing Lead Cubs To 8-3 Win Over Astros

I could get used to this -- couldn't you?

The Cubs are 13-2 in their last 15 road games. Read that again: 13 victories in their last 15 road games, and a chance to finish the season in fourth place, with a winning road record, if they can finish the sweep of the Astros tomorrow.

Who would have thought this possible seven weeks ago? The Cubs beat the Astros 8-3 Saturday night, on the strength of three RBI from Marlon Byrd and a grand slam from Aramis Ramirez.

That makes them 40-40 on the road and the winner of tomorrow's game finishes fourth in the NL Central, the loser fifth. True, not what you start the season playing for, but on the day Lou Piniella retired, the Cubs looked headed for a 100-loss season. The team has begun to play inspired baseball under Mike Quade and made him a serious candidate for manager. Though I'm still firmly in the Ryne Sandberg camp, I admit that Quade's enthusiastic approach has impressed me. He's still done some strange things -- for one, I don't understand why Bobby Scales is playing at all -- but on balance, he's done an excellent job.

Once again, Carlos Zambrano threw six outstanding innings, entering the seventh having allowed only two singles and a walk. He seemed to be bothered by Scales' error on Hunter Pence's leadoff grounder in the seventh; he walked Carlos Lee and uncorked a wild pitch, and then when Scales bobbled a potential double-play ball and got only one out, Z gave up a double to Brett Wallace and was then replaced. He quickly walked off the mound, probably more upset with himself than with being removed.

Big Z finishes the year having won eight decisions without a loss since his return from the DL, and in 11 starts since that time has posted a 1.41 ERA in 70.1 innings, with 44 hits and 40 walks allowed for a 1.194 WHIP, and only one home run, most impressive. If he can keep this focus all year in 2011 -- now that he's announced that he's going to exercise his NTC and stay a Cub -- the Cubs have that #1 starter they've been seeking. Obviously, keeping up this pace would be nearly impossible. I'd settle for a guy who throws 200 innings, stays healthy, doesn't melt down and gives his team a chance to win every time out.

Aramis Ramirez's grand slam in the fourth inning was his 25th HR of the year and made him the sixth Cub (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa and Ryne Sandberg the others) to have six or more 25 homer seasons; it was also the ninth slam of A-Ram's career. The 2010 Cubs will be the first Cub team since 1989 (Mark Grace, 79) to have no one drive in 90 runs or more, but at least A-Ram, with 83, has had a pretty good run since he returned from the DL in late June. Marlon Byrd added three RBI and Starlin Castro bumped his BA to exactly .300 with 505 plate appearances, pretty much ensuring he'll sit out tomorrow.

Other notes: Alfonso Soriano hit his 40th double of the year, tying him with the Braves' Martin Prado for sixth in the NL. It's the first time he's had 40 doubles in a season since 2007.

There's a lot to be happy about regarding the Cubs' run the last seven weeks, even if it didn't mean anything in the 2010 standings. Win tomorrow and have a great sendoff to the off-season.