Once again, the Cubs found a way. In the past, the next two words would have been "to lose." Hey, pal, this is 2008! These Cubs keep finding ways to win. Remarkable.
Once again, the Cubs found a way. In the past, the next two words would have been "to lose." Hey, pal, this is 2008! These Cubs keep finding ways to win. Remarkable. No Alfonso Soriano? They win even more decisively without their priciest player - 41-9 the last four days alone. Ryan Theriot has back spasms? Bring in Ronny Cedeno, who not only delivers clutch hits but talks openly about the Cubs going to the World Series. Ted Lilly is pitching ... oh no? Ted Lilly is pitching ... oh yes! With Tuesday's 8-1 victory over the New York Mets, even the laboring left-hander now has one in the win column. These are not your grandfather's, father's or even older brother's Cubs. Led by Kosuke Fukudome, who has reached in his last seven plate appearances to lift his on-base percentage to .477, these guys patiently work counts and wear out opponents. The Cubs pitch well. They catch the baseball. They are talented - and with that $119 million payroll, they should be. And their manager seemingly can do no wrong. If Lou Piniella put Ron Santo into a game as a pinch-runner, I'm pretty sure the 68-year-old broadcaster with the prosthetic legs would steal second, third and home. Though uncomfortable with any World Series talk - which is kind of strange for a guy who wants his team to have "Cubbie Swagger" - Piniella matter-of-factly offered this after his team's 7-1 homestand: "I don't see weaknesses." His calmness counteracts Cubbieland's growing giddiness. Even with April far from over, the fans are stoked about their 14-6 team. And you know what? It's hard to blame them. These Cubs are easy to like and - gulp! - easy to believe in. There. I said it. This is not one of those "We believe" fan-type things, because I'm no more of a Cubbie fan than I am a golden-haired, blue-eyed Adonis. I don't wear an "IT'S GONNA HAPPEN" bracelet, display a "Fukudome is my Homie" sign or bellow "Loooooou!" whenever I see the skipper. But I do believe the Cubs are a very good team, even better than I thought they were when I picked them to win the division. During Tuesday's game, the scribe next to me in the press box asked: "So where are the Cubs going next?" My return question: "Does it matter?" I was being facetious, but maybe I shouldn't have been. After six victories over Pittsburgh led many skeptics - including this one - to say, "Yeah, but they're only the Pirates," the Cubs beat the Mets 7-1 and 8-1. Each day, the Cubs had a huge eighth inning, displaying the kind of killer instinct legitimate contenders must have. "We're finding ways to extend leads, finding ways to win," Mark DeRosa said. "It doesn't matter who the opponent is. We're worrying about ourselves." For the record, the next opponent is Colorado. The defending National League champion is fully capable of knocking the Cubs down a notch, but Lou's lads seem to understand how to deal with a season's ebb and flow. After his two-run single broke open Monday's victory, an excited Cedeno said: "We're thinking about the World Series." After his grand slam clinched Tuesday's game, it was obvious Piniella had gotten to the young shortstop. Asked again about the World Series, Cedeno said: "I'm taking it back. I was going too fast. It's very early." He's not the only one saying the right things. Lilly likes the way the guys focus on team accomplishments and goals. DeRosa praises Piniella's penchant for putting players in positions to succeed. Piniella says Fukudome's plate discipline rubs off on his teammates. "Everything about this game is contagious, whether it's swinging the bat, playing defense or pitching ... and right now, winning is contagious for us," said Reed Johnson, the scrap-heap pickup who has energized the top of the order in Soriano's absence. "This is fun. Everybody's smiling, joking. It's like we're playing high school or college baseball all over again. To see a bunch of grown men acting like kids again, it's great." The Cubs signed Johnson to play center field because they were unhappy with Felix Pie. With Soriano out, Johnson has played left - alongside Pie, who has responded with back-to-back good games. And then there's Cedeno, who was beaten out by Theriot last year. All he's done his last four games is bat .389 with 10 RBIs. "They're producing," Piniella said of the team's unheralded role players. "And they keep telling me they want to stay in the lineup." Note to Theriot: Mend quickly. You, too, Soriano. Fact is, the Cubs are better without their $136 million man swinging wildly at the top of the order. It will be interesting to see how Piniella handles the sensitive star when Soriano comes off the disabled list. You know what? Lou will find a way. Anybody who says otherwise hasn't been paying attention. --- Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.