Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Harbinger or aberration?

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Is Thursday's late-inning outburst the sign of a struggling lineup breaking out of its slump, or the inevitable aberration that blips during almost any team funk?

The Cubs figure to get a quick answer to that when they face the reigning American League Cy Young winner, lefty Cliff Lee, Friday at Wrigley - the fifth time this season they'll have faced a Cy Young winner (those pitchers are 3-1, 1.88 against the Cubs).


``Hopefully a game like this springs us loose,'' manager Lou Piniella said.

Derrek Lee, who has been the Cubs' best hitter the past month called Thursday's game the Cubs' biggest of the season for its confidence-building and carryover potential.

``We've been in an offensive funk, and to score some runs late off some really good pitchers is big for us,'' Lee said. ``To lose this game would have been tough.''

Positive signs out of Thursday included:

-- A two-hit game by Milton Bradley that has his average (.243) finally well past his own weight and heading toward Carlos Zambrano's. Bradley is 9 for 19 (.474) over his past six games.

-- The three-run homer by Lee that extended his hitting streak to 15 games and has his surge since May 16 at 35 for 97 (.361) with five homers and 15 RBIs.

-- Hits in the eighth and ninth by Alfonso Soriano that snapped an 0 for 15 slide.

-- A walk and homer by long-struggling Geovany Soto, giving him three homers in June after hitting one the first two months of the season.

-- And another strong seven innings pitched by Carlos Zambrano, who is 1-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his past four starts, with the team winning three of those games.

``It's not time to mess around,'' Zambrano said after Thursday's game. ``It's time to start winning more games. It's almost the middle of the season, and we need to start turning our engine on and start playing better.''

Maybe these dramatic late-inning wins against Minnesota Sunday and the Sox on Thursday are ``a harbinger of things to come,'' Piniella said.

Maybe they'll find out more about that today.

Bottom line, says Piniella: ``For us to be a good offensive team, we need Soriano to hit. Let's be perfectly clear about that.

``And we need a few of these other guys that haven't swung the bats like they're capable of to hit. And some of them are starting to show signs.

``But, look, let's see what happens.''

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This whole year just looks bad for the Cubs, from the off-season trades and acquisitions that haven't worked out, the slow starts or current by all the best hitters, to the injuries. It's amazing they are still hovering around .500

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on June 18, 2009 9:56 PM.

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