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Say what you will about the Cubs having a miserable season, but maybe it's not quite as bad as the standings show.
With Thursday's 4-0 victory over the Brewers, the Cubs are on pace to win 87 games. That would be one fewer than last season, when they won the National League Central, and two months remain to be played.
While the Cardinals could reach 88 victories by the end of next month, the Cubs' ability to take three of four games at Miller Park goes a long way toward making them feel better about their wild-card chances. And better about themselves too.
"It's important because we're still fighting for the wild card, and we need to go out there and try to win series," right fielder Sammy Sosa said. "We're not thinking about the [division-leading] Cardinals. We have to forget about everybody and go out and try to win every day."
Sosa finally had one of his "message" days Thursday, backing Carlos Zambrano's pitching gem with a two-run homer during the Cubs' four-run sixth inning. He also singled and walked.
In other words, he was letting his bat answer his critics, who say he stands too far from the plate and fails to make adjustments when slumping.
In July Sosa has 10 homers and 20 RBIs, with an average of .268.
"It's something that people worry about me," Sosa said. "I know how to make adjustments at the plate. I know when I'm healthy I can produce. It's something that maybe you can put in the paper and most people can read the numbers."
Sosa was asked if the criticism over his stance, some of it from manager Dusty Baker, bothered him.
"It's not getting to me," he said. "I really appreciate everybody trying to help me. But the only guy who's got to make adjustments at the plate is me. It's something I've been doing all my life."
The Cubs could use a hot Sosa for the final two months.
August has been the best month through his career, with 117 homers and 286 RBIs.
Actually, the Cubs could use any bat getting hot, because the pitching has been splendid.
Even before Zambrano worked eight innings and Kyle Farnsworth finished to blank the Brewers, Cubs pitchers led the league in ERA and strikeouts, plus fewest hits and runs allowed.
Zambrano (10-6) joined Greg Maddux in double-digit victories, allowing only two hits from the second through eighth innings. But he didn't start out in dominant fashion.
Far from it.
The first two Brewers singled, and after Craig Counsell stole second base, they had runners on second and third.
But the big right-hander struck out the Brewers' Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hittersGeoff Jenkins, Russell Branyan and Lyle Overbayto end the inning.
Then he started the second inning with two more strikeouts.
"I was a little bit tired from the first inning," Zambrano said of the 31-pitch effort. "But it was good to make adjustments
and come back and throw eight innings."
Corey Patterson made a marvelous running catch against the wall in center field to help Zambrano out of the sixth, after the Cubs had scored all the runs he would need in the top of the inning.
Rookie Ben Hendrickson, who started the game with an 0-3 record and a 9.75 ERA, shut down the Cubs hitters for five innings, but they got back at him in the sixth.
Leadoff hitter Tom Goodwin doubled and scored on Todd Walker's double, with Sosa's homer following. Patterson bunted for a single, stole second and scored on a double by Aramis Ramirez off reliever Dave Burba.
The rest was up to Zambrano, who, like his teammates, seemed re-energized by this series. He also was thinking about the future, what with the Cubs in the wild-card hunt.
"Whatever it takes for us to win the NL Central, to win the wild card, whatever it takes, we just want to go to the playoffs," he said. "And the sooner we're there, the better. We have a pretty good team. The Cardinals, we don't have to worry about them. We have to worry about being in the playoffs."