SBW took a couple days off to tend to real life, and look what happened: The Cubs' magic number is down to 4 and the White Sox' magic number is down to 10. We're getting closer...
The last two games for the Cubs: Oh, not much happened at all, just another near no-hitter, this one by Ted Lilly, followed by another of Woody's heart attack specials. The Cubs finished their "road trip" playing Houston in Milwaukee by demoralizing the Astros for the second straight game, winning 6-1 behind Lilly, who no-hit the Astros into the 7th (though he was not nearly as dominating as Zambrano the night before). The Cubs actually scored in three different innings, which hasn't happened a whole lot lately. Power was back in vogue at the plate, with D-Lee, Geo and Old Man Edmonds all going yard. A-Ram also had a sac fly. the Astros are not out of it yet, but with this two-game run, the Cubs kinda killed the 'Stros momentum. They not only beat a team they have had trouble with this year, but also cooled off the hottest team in the Central Division since the second half started.
We won't give back the wins, but it's terribly unfortunate that these games had to be moved to what was definitely not a neutral site. How can a Cubs fan talk that way? I'm a baseball fan, too, and I don't like when MLB appears to give teams that can provide better postseason ratings a leg up. Moving the games elsewhere may have changed the course of history--maybe Zammy wouldn't have thrown a no-hitter, and maybe the Cubs would have had a tougher time winning both, but it would have been the right thing to do. Instead, I think MLB's favorable treament gave other teams even more reasons to want to beat the Cubs. The third game of the series likely will now go un-played, unless the Astros remain in contention to the final weekend.
Last night, the Cubs came back home from their vacation home in Milwaukee to face... Milwaukee. When the Cubs were swooning, I was not looking forward to this series at all, but the Brewers have been swooning even worse since, and fired manager Ned Yost, a shocking move. Yost may have overseen the Beermakers' swoon, but he was torpedoed by tightly-wound hitters and a terrible bullpen. Still, maybe it's what the Brewers need to make the postseason.
But, if they do make it into October, it will be as a wild card. The Cubs virtually assured themselves the division flag with last night's 5-4 win. If they can sweep the series, they win the Central and make what looked like a murderous stretch of games from now until the end of the season almost meaningless. This one wasn't easy. The Cubs had to face CC, and did well against him for the second time, scoring three runs in the first three innings, but he got better as the game went on. Meanwhile, Dempster piled up Ks early on, but later let Prince Fielder chip away with a mammoth right field HR. Al-So added a solo HR that gave the Cubs a 4-2 edge, but Fielder added another HR, this one almost more impressive because it was muscled out opposite field against filthy Carlos Marmol.
The Cubs added another run for a 5-3 edge in the 9th, which is more often than not the kind of cushion Woody needs. He gave up a run-scoring double to Ray Durham, who is a great clutch hitter going back to his days on the Sox, but if it's possible to make a 96 MPH fastball easy to hit, Woody did just that, pushing it over the middle of the plate just above the knees. After a cheap infield single by Ryan Braun, Woody stared down Fielder with men on 1st and 3rd, two outs. Woody ended up facing the one guy no one wanted to see him face, and as Fielder worked to a 3-2 count and kept fouling of fastballs, this looked like the kind of at-bat the pitcher can't win. But, Woody dropped in a waist-high slider (or curve, some said) that shocked everyone watching, most of all Fielder. Again Woody turned in a final inning that makes you queasy when you think of October games, but he got it done.
The last two games for the White Sox: The bullpen imploded on Sunday, and though the Sox still managed to win, it didn't make you feel good about Monday's game against the Yankees. The Yanks have almost nothing to play for except a small amount of pride in leaving their old stadium on a winning note. Still, with Buehrle starting Monday, things looked OK early on. DeWayne Wise homered for the second straight game, but after Buehrle left the game 2-2, the bullpen couldn't hold and the Sox eventually lost 4-2. More concerning than the bullpen performance, however, was a flat performance by the offense. Dirty 30, filling in for the still-injured Paulie, was 0 for 3 and saw his average go down to .220, though he wasn't the only culprit. The Sox seemed to lack play-off race urgency, but the Piranhas may be having more problems: After losing in Baltimore Sunday despite crushing the O's earlier in the weekend, the Twins lost in Cleveland Monday night. The Sox often have seen the Twins become their main nemesis in the play-off hunt, and the Twins have ruthlessly dispatched the Sox more than once, but this year, it seems like the Twins want to give it away.
Tuesday night was much better for the Sox. Gavin Floyd again proved to be exactly what they needed on the mound, while the offense scored often with power (The Missile fired on into the left field seats) and finesse (Paulie was back and delivered a run-scoring hit, Junior delivered and RBI and both B.A. and uribe and two-out RBIs). Paulie has been building back to full strength, and only last week, his sprained MCL looked like it would kill his momentum, but he seems to have lost no steam at all. The Sox won 6-2, and even though the bullpen had a big lead to work with, scoreless innings by Thornton and Jenks meant a lot in this one. And, hard to believe, but the toothless Piranhas lost again. Thanks, Cleveland.
The Sox are now again 2.5 games up on Minnesota. They have reached this threshold before only to give games back. If they can manage to add just one game to that lead in the next five very winnable games against the Yanks and K.C., they will be in great position going into Minnesota next week. And, while it would be great to clinch the division at home (especially Sept. 26, when I will next be at The Cell), it would also be fun to do it in Minnesota, wouldn't it?