So if the Brewers sweep the Pirates, outscoring them 47-1, and then the Cubs sweep the Brewers, outscoring them 25-4, what does that portend when the Cubs face the Pirates early next month in Pittsburgh?
Nothing, of course; each series is its own little drama, and though the Pirates are struggling (they just got swept by the Astros, being outscored 19-8), no baseball team should take anything for granted.
The Cubs came out with their hitting shoes on (all their shoes; none fell off today) and pounded out 18 hits and four home runs (roll call: Geovany Soto, Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee and Tyler Colvin) and demolished the Brewers 12-2 before another near-sellout at Miller Park, 38,634.
Both Colvin and Fukudome had homered, singled and doubled (that "triple short of the cycle" that happens more often than you might think) by the middle innings and each of them had two more chances to fill that elusive final part of the cycle. A cycle has never happened twice in one game, and it has happened twice on the same day only one time, September 1, 2008, when Stephen Drew and Adrian Beltre both did it. Colvin smacked a line drive in the eighth inning that looked like it could have been headed toward the right field corner; Prince Fielder made an outstanding leaping grab to rob Colvin of his fourth hit of the day. Lou is going to have to figure out a way to get Colvin more playing time.
Once again, no team is as bad as it looks while it's on a losing streak, and no team is as good as it looks when it's crushing an opponent and sweeping a series (the Brewers could tell you a few things about that, I suppose). Nevertheless, what we have seen from the Cubs this weekend is, I believe, closer to their true level of talent than what we saw when the bullpen was blowing games left and right in the first two weeks of the season.
Credit also to Randy Wells, who threw an excellent seven innings today, walking nobody and striking out six, and also doubled and scored, leaving his own batting average at .333. Justin Berg and James Russell threw an inning each -- a good time to use both of them and get them a confidence-building appearance; neither gave up a run. Neither Berg nor Russell throws very hard, but if they can get their sinkers working, they can be very effective middle relievers.
There is still much work this team needs to do, obviously -- the sweep didn't even get them to .500, as they are still 9-10, but the win put them in second place behind the Cardinals, who at this writing are leading the Giants; if San Francisco can come back, the Cubs would then trail St. Louis by only a single game coming into a homestand where they should be favored to win almost every day against the Nationals and Diamondbacks.
A couple of notes: we have discussed, endlessly, the move of Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. One of the sportswriters who is most respected here, Bruce Miles, chimes into this discussion, asking, "What if it works"? Indeed, that is the point I've been trying to make about this move all along. Yes, it flies in the face of numbers; yes, it flies in the face of conventional baseball wisdom. But what if it works?
Say what you will about manager Lou Piniella, he's not afraid to think outside the box. And here is a manager who's been in the game all his adult life and one who operates in a sport so bound to "conventional wisdom" that most changes are made reluctantly.
"I think you better think out of the box here at times," Lou said. "I think out-of-the-box is a good thing. Look, things change. Sometimes you leave spring training one way, and all of a sudden, something happens, and you have to adjust to it, whether it's pitching, whether it's positions, whether it's bench. Things change, and they never stay the same for 162 games. Unless you're awfully good or you're awfully deep, you better be able to think out of the box at times because if you don't, you're going to get beat up."
Amen, Bruce. That's what I've been trying to say since this was announced on Wednesday. I do not think it's a coincidence that the Cubs are 4-1 since they made this move. Sometimes shaking things up has unexpected effects on human behavior and performance. This appears to be one of these times.
Finally, a Cubs fan fell onto the left-field warning track at Miller Park during batting practice today and was taken to a local hospital. Hope he's OK.