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Cubs Win; Phil Is Alive After All
by Phil Bencomo
Sorry for the dearth of posting last week. It seems there's a whole busy world out there that doesn't care about baseball or the Cubs.
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With seven shutout innings, and despite a tight strike zone that resulted in four walks, Rich Hill further confirmed his place as my Current Favorite Cub. There can be no denying it: Hill is good.
With Alfonso Soriano slumping, Aramis Ramirez undergoing testing, and Derrek Lee's home run swing still missing, the Cubs had to grind out their first few runs, taking a slim 2-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. With the Cubs' shaky bullpen history, this year and in years past, I never feel safe late in a game with a lead any less than three. And even a lead of five, as we saw this week, isn't enough to make me feel entirely secure.
So I was ecstatic when the Cubs scored five in the seventh, capped by a bases-clearing double by Lee, to increase the lead to seven. Even the Cubs can't blow this one now, I thought to myself.
And the Cubs not only didn't blow it, they managed a shutout, the team's first of the season. Bob Howry and Ryan Dempster closed out the win with a scoreless inning each.
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I'm not too worried about Soriano's performance at the plate, and I think he'll come around pretty soon (though in his career he's hit .308/.346/.513 in April...), but his seemingly lackluster play on the basepaths is worrisome. I can understand getting picked off by, say, a lefty like Chris Capuano with a great move. But three times in 10 games? That's just not acceptable. And with a paltry .283 OBP this year, Soriano can't afford to give himself up on the bases.
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Derrek Lee, though he's batting nearly .400, has looked lost at times at the plate. On Friday, with a man on in the bottom of the ninth, Reds closer David Weathers pounded the outside corner against Lee, and Derrek looked out of it. He wasn't getting good swings in, and he did what so many youth players do when the ball is outside: Fling the bat weakly at the ball, with legs firmly planted in line with the pitcher, in hopes of making contact.
Yesterday, Lee did what I'd hoped he would with the outside pitch: In the seventh, Lee stepped towards the ball, his feet aligning with first base, not the pitcher, and promptly lined the ball into right-center for a three-run double. My guess: Lee picked up on the flaw, either in video or from hitting coach Gerald Perry, and then corrected it. And that is the mark of a good hitter. But we're still waiting for that first homer...
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Well, I'm out of time. I've got to mow the lawn for the first time this year, and it's really, really long.