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Carlos Zambrano Still Heading To Bullpen! (Oh, And Cubs Win 9-3)

Could Alfonso Soriano be starting one of his hot streaks?
Could Alfonso Soriano be starting one of his hot streaks?

Why the repeat headline? Because I figure that's what's on most everyone's mind this morning.

Still, the Cubs beat the Mets 9-3 last night, snapping a four-game losing streak, and that's at least worth a brief recap -- especially since a number of good things happened.

Roy Halladay of the Phillies shut out the Braves last night and, among all NL pitchers with three or more starts, leads the league with a 0.82 ERA. Mike Pelfrey is second, Tim Lincecum third, and... with a 0.95 ERA, Carlos Silva ranks fourth. Silva was outstanding again last night, giving up only one run -- a homer to Rod Barajas -- and one other hit, and his first walk of the year (and I thought he was getting squeezed). I certainly don't expect Silva to be this good all year -- I'd settle for an ERA in the fours and performance equivalent to what the Cubs got out of Jason Marquis -- but he has been a pleasant surprise, and let's hope he keeps it up.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Soriano had three hits and a walk and, for the first time all year, looked like he could actually run the bases when he legged out a triple. He hit his second HR of the season, drove in three runs, and also drew a walk. Soriano has a history of hot streaks. Maybe this will start one.

The rest of the team also hit well, totalling 14 hits and nine walks, and even though 14 runners were left on base, for once that didn't matter, since nine of them scored. Geovany Soto went 2-for-2 with three walks; his 12 walks on the season are tied for sixth in the NL. Geo hasn't hit for much power yet -- just one double and one HR -- but all those walks are creating a great deal of offensive value.

It will be tough to split the series, with Johan Santana going for the Mets tonight. But if the Cubs can come out of NYC with that split, things will look pretty good. Now, on to more Z discussion.

It has often been said that the "save" is one of the most worthless stats in the game, since a pitcher can come into the game in a fairly low-leverage situation -- three runs ahead and nobody on base in the ninth inning -- and get a "save" by retiring three hitters. Granted, this isn't the only way to register a save, but it does happen frequently. In a situation like that, the pitcher can even give up two runs, posting an 18.00 ERA for the game, and still get a "save".

Often, the toughest situations in games come in the seventh or eighth innings, with a team ahead by one or two runs and multiple baserunners.

So why not use one of your best pitchers in that situation? Consider this scenario: the Cubs are at home, leading 4-2 in the top of the 7th, and the other team gets runners on first and third with two out.

In comes Carlos Zambrano. He retires the hitter, getting out of the jam. It so happens that the pitcher's spot is coming up fourth in the bottom of the 7th -- so Lou lets Z bat for himself. The Cubs also put runners on first and third with one out, and instead of trying to hit a 900-foot home run, Z plays situational ball -- sending a fly to right to score an insurance run.

He then retires the side in the eighth 1-2-3, setting the stage for Carlos Marmol to come in for one of those "easy" saves in the ninth (three runs ahead, nobody on base).

To me, the angst over this move is overblown. Crunch the numbers and convince yourself this is a bad move -- in my opinion, it's just what the team needed to give itself a boost. It was a wakeup call to a club that appeared to be sleepwalking through its last few games. It's unconventional, and granted, most teams wouldn't take one of its best starters and do this with him. And, according to this, it's temporary:

The move is temporary, Piniella said. Zambrano, who is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in four starts, has already set his sights on starting in the postseason.

"I told Lou I want to help this team until you find somebody," Zambrano said. "I told him I want to be back for the playoffs. If we go to the playoffs, I want to go back to the rotation."

So, he will start again this year?

"Like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger says, I will be back," Zambrano said.

Right now, there doesn't appear to be anyone suitable available to acquire to fill that role. The Cubs looked at Braden Looper -- I'm glad they didn't sign him. In a few weeks, perhaps Jim Hendry can swing a deal and Z will return to the rotation. It's temporary. In the meantime, maybe Z can help turn some of the seventh and eighth inning disasters we've seen so far in 2010 into wins.