Eight notes and observations on each of the eight playoff teams ... and now, the Cubs.
1. From 8th to 1st
In 2007, the Cubbies scored 4.6 runs per game, which was middle of the pack in the National League. So far this year, they've jumped all the way to 5.3, way ahead of everyone else. A lot of it is Wrigley Field, but a lot of it isn't. Geovany Soto replaced Michael Barrett, who was traded for nothing terribly useful. An old guy released by the Padres (see below) replaced Jacque Jones, who was last seen flailing away for the Marlins. And Reed Johnson has done his typical part-time thing that he does so well.
2. Z makes history
Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter against the Astros recently and there was probably much snickering over the lineup he faced: Lance Berkman and eight...others. It didn't even approach the modern record for pathetic no-hitters, though, and anyway that's not why it's history-making.
Because of one of those hurricanes, this game was the first no-hitter at a neutral site, in front of some 23-thousand Milwaukeeans at Miller Park. And Ted Lilly (oh, you remember Theodore Roosevelt Lilly, no matter how much you try not to) brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning the very next day, meaning we were nine outs away from something that has never occurred before in the history of baseball: a Ted Lilly smile.
Anyway, Zambrano is a horse and a tough one at that. 75% of his stuff is fast, fast, fast, but he can and will destroy you with his slider. He walks guys but gets away with it. Not the guy you want to face in a best-of-five.
3. And now a jamiecampbell moment
"...and Ryan Dempster of Sechelt, B.C. is scheduled to go tomorrow after Rich Harden of Victoria toes the rubber today. And while we're at it, a happy birthday goes out to Gladys Kensington of Flin Flon. She's 80 today and never misses a Blue Jays game! The first pitch from Victoria, B.C.'s Rich Harden is a strike..."
4. Will there be another Crazy '08?
As everyone must know by now, the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Out of Left Field's math guy will confirm that it's been exactly 100 years. It's too easy to list all the things that were true at the time, but it's more enlightening to read Cait Murphy's extensively-researched and wonderfully-written tale from that historical year. Sorry it's not Google-able, but sometimes you have to pay for quality.
5. Aramis not a miss
I don't get it right often, but indulge me with respect to Aramis Ramirez: In 2005, I said "there’s no reason to believe he won’t improve on [his 2004 season]." In 2006, "he's going to be quite good for the next few years." And he's been pretty damned good every year since 2004. Anyway, Ramirez is the rare hitter with power and without lots of strikeouts. Even though he's only in the NL top 10 in doubles and RBI, he's still a huge part of the Cubs' being #1 in offence. Even if he is defensively slow at third base...
6. "I am thankful for your ignorant attempts to make me feel most welcome."
After everyone got over their giggles on alternate ways to pronounce Kosuke Fukudome, they started showing up with nonsensical Japanese phrases. That's all very well and good, but when you wear T-shirts that make the Indians' logo look okay, maybe it's time to beef up your foreign policy experience.
7. No Es for Lee
In two ways, Derrek Lee is penalized by Albert Pujols. Lee is probably the best defensive first baseman in baseball, but Pujols wins just as many Gold Gloves (not that Gold Gloves are important, but work with me here). Lee is also a heck of a hitter, but again, not the best first baseman in his division.
What Lee does have going for him, aside from defensive brilliance, is that he's certainly made the Cubs the winners in the Hee Seop Choi trade. Who's Choi? Just one of the more embarrassing remnants of the height of the post-Moneyball era, when any player with a decent OBP was relentlessly championed as the saviour of Your Favourite Team, even if he wasn't all that good at, you know, playing baseball. Choi has not appeared in the majors since 2005.
8. Random executive summary of the top Ballhype story as of this moment
"Without beer, I never realized how boring this game was."