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Cards Stumble, Cubs Rumble Into First

By Garrett Monaghan

The Cubs finished a very satisfying sweep of Dusty Baker's Reds yesterday, riding Rich Harden's third straight strong start to a 5-2 win. Since getting shallacked by the Cardinals just before the All-Star Break, Harden has given up only eight hits and three runs in his last nineteen innings and dropped his ERA a full run. That's great news for the Cubs, who desperately need some stability out of their depleted starting rotation.

The offense seems to have finally woken up, and the Cubs have scored at least five runs in seven out of ten games since the All Star Break. Admittedly, all those runs have come against two of the worst pitching staffs in the league, but I'll still take it. Alfonso Soriano appears to be more comfortable in the six hole, Kosuke Fukudome is hitting will over .300 since moving into the leadoff spot, and even Milton Bradley is showing sporadic signs of life. Aramis Ramirez has been a huge boost, and Ryan Theriot has been on fire at the top of the lineup.

The only real gripe I have with the Cubs right now is their mystifying refusal to either call up another catcher or use Jake Fox behind the plate. Koyie Hill is great defensively, but he can't hit enough to justify playing him every day; and he's going to wear out sooner rather than later if the Cubs can't get him a day off. If the Cubs don't really want to use Fox as a catcher, that's understandable; but they need to call up another catcher and let Fox play somewhere else. Continuing to keep Fox on the bench in case something happens to Hill is just absurd. Why Hendry and Pinella continue to handcuff themselves is beyond me.

The Cubs have a great opportunity to extend their lead in the division if they can take care of Houston. The Astros put themselves in the middle of the race by sweeping St. Louis last week, but they'll be without slugger Lance Berkman, which is a break for the Cubs. It'd be nice to see the Cubs stay hot and put Houston safely away before heading out on a 10-game road trip.

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