a blown call helped in a huge eighth-inning run that decided last night's affair in favor of the cubs, and that's the kind of thing that can get you into the playoffs in a tight race. with ryan theriot on third in a tie game thanks to a hustle double and a derrek lee single, matt murton lifted a soft liner to left that adam dunn nabbed with a sliding catch for what should have been the second out of the inning and a play at the plate after theriot double-clutched on tagging up. but the ruling was a trap, and dunn stupidly conceded to his first instinct -- which was to complain -- as theriot scampered home without a play.
an equally critical play followed in houston, as hunter pence singled in the winner in the extra frame forced by rickie weeks' clutch game-tying homer off brad lidge in the ninth. the net effect was to put the cubs up a game with nine to play, and you know that ain't bad.
a lot of things are tilted the cubs way over what little remains of this season, and it seems (unsurprisingly) precious few people are following my advice as hubris and destiny take hold in cubdom. but there's actually a big test this weekend as the cubs face paul maholm, zach duke and tom gorzelanny -- all three lefties -- fronting a pittsburgh club that is 24-24 since august 1.
i have a hard type even plonking out the letters that spell "fear pittsburgh" without smiling. but an objective take might suggest that this isn't the walkover one would like to see. the lowly pirates have notched a surprising 5.04 runs a game in the second half on the backs of adam laroche (324/378/489 post-asb), freddy sanchez (327/377/533), jack wilson (357/408/573), ronny paulino (308/367/467) and nate mclouth (259/353/493). fear the pirate offense? laughable! but there are the numbers.
but the harder part involves the cubs' travails against these lefties particularly. gorzelanny career vs the cubs: 3 gs, 3-0, 0.82 era, 0.90 whip. duke vs the cubs: 7 gs, 4-1, 1.57 era, 1.10 whip. maholm vs the cubs: 5 gs, 4-0, 4.94 era, 1.26 whip.
gorzelanny's figure is (obviously) babip-exaggerated, but success hasn't come easy against this lot. i was prepared to attribute it to the a bigger scheme of difficulty that the cubs offense is oft-rumored to have with left-handed pitching. but in truth they have hit 257/318/417 this year vs lhp (as opposed to 273/336/414 vs rhp), generating 165 runs in 1385 pa or 0.119 r/pa -- slightly better than they've done against the other kind of pitching (530 r in 4500 pa, 0.118 r/pa). in fact, the setup seem to indicate that maybe the cubs can ride some mean reversion here. maholm has been strangely effective since june, but was shelled last time out. duke is still shaking off the rust of a long spell on the disabled list. gorzelanny has been victimized by the babip trolls most of the second half.
anyway, the brewers are in atlanta beginning tonight (one of the blessed cub off-days) for four. they get a couple kids in the first and last games, but see tim hudson and john smoltz in between. you'd have to think a split would be a successful series for milwaukee. it's up to the cubs to capitalize on that to add to their lead and really put the screws to ned yost.