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Derrek Lee Homers Twice; Cubs Nearly Blow Seven-Run Lead, But Win Series From Cardinals

Here's how frustrating this season has been.

The Cubs had a 3-4 road trip against two playoff contenders -- not bad, all things considered. What is bad is that the Cubs had the lead in all seven games at one time or another, and in six of the seven (all except the 6-3 loss to the Cardinals on Friday), they were either tied or ahead in the seventh inning or later. And even Sunday's game made us all a little nervous toward the end, because Carlos Marmol had to come in with the score 9-4 and the bases loaded to finish off today's victory at 9-7, but not before making it way too close for my tastes.

So with a little better RISP hitting, or a little better relief pitching, the Cubs might have won six games on the road trip -- and they would likely have won more games in general this season.

That's why I think this team isn't necessarily out of playoff contention for 2011. Granted, many things have to go right this winter. But all of us have seen how quickly things can turn around for a team that looked destined to go nowhere -- you need look no farther than the South Side of Chicago since June for an example of just such a team.

Am I predicting this? No. It's way too early to make such a prediction. We'll see what happens with the Cubs' abilities to move large contracts like Kosuke Fukudome's and Carlos Zambrano's, which might give them room to add some useful parts. In the meantime, it is always, always, nice to take a series from the Cardinals. The Cubs now lead the season series with St. Louis 5-4, with home-and-home series remaining in September.

Ryan Dempster threw a nice game, lasting into the seventh inning and allowing only five hits and two runs. His only real mistake was deposited into the first row in right-center field by Albert Pujols for Albert's 30th HR of the season. Dempster also slashed an RBI single into right field in the Cubs' six-run third inning and later scored a run on a wild pitch by Mike MacDougal that didn't get too far away; Demp slid just under MacDougal's attempted tag.

In that fourth inning, the first six Cubs reached base and all of them scored. Now how many times this year have we seen anything like that kind of offensive production from Cubs hitters? Included were three singles, a walk and two doubles; one of the doubles was by Koyie Hill which bounced into the seats and just missed being a grand slam.

Derrek Lee, possibly trying to show Jim Hendry that he should be signed on for another year or two (I doubt it, but who knows with a good last two months?), hit two home runs today -- giving him four HR in 11 AB in the series before he had to leave the game with back stiffness. That link also notes:

Cubs manager Lou Piniella announced Sunday that [Thomas] Diamond's turn in the rotation Wednesday was being handed off to Casey Coleman. Diamond struggled in all three starts he has made this season, giving up a total 12 earned runs in 13 innings. He made it through only four innings against the Cardinals on Friday and lasted only three innings against the Reds.

"We are going to make a change," Piniella said. "We are going to pitch Coleman. And Diamond will go to the bullpen and pitch long relief."
So the Cubs will come home tomorrow to play -- for the first time in almost a full calendar year, since last August 19 -- the San Diego Padres, another playoff contender. It doesn't get easier next weekend, with the Braves in town. This is a good test for many of the rookies on the current roster, playing postseason-caliber teams before roster expansion. Let's hope they make it less nervous than today.