This is the Carlos Zambrano that Jim Hendry gave a $90 million contract to three years ago.
Had Starlin Castro not made an error on Prince Fielder's ground ball in the ninth inning, Z would have had the Cubs' first complete game shutout since... well, since just about a year ago, when he shut out the Giants on two hits last September 25.
Z was outstanding last night, allowing only three hits and three walks and having three hits himself (his seventh career three-hit game, raising his season batting average to .273). His ERA in the seven starts since his return to the rotation dropped to 1.60 in 45 innings, and his WHIP -- which was a concern after a couple of the starts where he issued way too many walks -- dropped to 1.24.
More importantly, Z seems calmer, more focused, more determined on the mound. You don't see the histrionics that we've seen before, the loss of concentration when someone makes an error behind him or he doesn't get an umpiring call. Whatever he's doing, let's hope he continues doing it. No team would trade a pitcher doing this well, and though I called for him to be dealt after the June blowup... I'm changing my mind. He's pitching like the "ace" everyone wants him to be and hoped he would be. If he can keep this going... that's a major boost for the 2011 rotation.
It's not too much of a stretch to say that Zambrano has been the best starter in the major leagues over the last six weeks.
The Cubs continued their dominance in Miller Park. They are 46-34 against the Brewers there all-time, and of course won the two games they played against the Astros there in 2008, including Big Z's no-hitter.
In addition to Z's three hits, Darwin Barney had two -- I like the way Barney plays the field, and he looks like he'll hit well enough to be a solid backup infielder next year. Blake DeWitt drew a pair of walks and scored one of the Cubs' four runs. Oddly enough, one thing the Cubs did not do last night was hit a home run -- they had hit six earlier this year off Dave Bush. The Brewers' three errors made three of the Cubs' runs unearned.
I would love to see the Cubs sweep this series -- they've already swept one in Milwaukee this year -- and finish the year strong. They improved to 10-6 under Mike Quade with last night's win. Despite the unimportance of the game and the lateness of the year, a decent-sized crowd of 30,975, again with a significant minority of Cubs fans, showed up at Miller Park. I'm heading up there Sunday if anyone wants to meet up there.
One final note -- a story broke last night about a fake press release about a "book" Jim Hendry supposedly wrote that had been left in the Miller Park press box. For more details and discussion check out this BCB FanShot posted last night. Without making accusations toward anyone, this isn't something that should happen and I hope Brewers management, which has already apologized for the incident, figures out who put it there and gives out an appropriate punishment to whoever did it.