7/8 Quick hits
Wednesday’s game was No. 82 on the schedule, which marks the start of the second half. Lou Piniella’s goal for the next 81 games is the same as the first.
“The goal is to win the division,” Piniella said. “That’s our goal. There’s no other goal. No other goal whatsoever.”
To do that and three-peat as National League Central champs, the Cubs need to get the offense going more consistently.
“We’ve got to hit,” Piniella said. “Fifteenth in the league in runs scored is not going to get it done, period. We can mask this any way we want to mask it, but we have to start scoring more runs consistently to win baseball games. We hit the ball, we continue to pitch, we’ll be just fine. If we don’t, it’ll be a struggle.”
The Cubs appeared to shake their offensive doldrums in the four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, posting a 9-5 win on July 2 and an 8-2 win on Sunday. But games like those have been few and far between. Jake Fox (.310) and Aramis Ramirez (.351) were the only .300 hitters in the Cubs lineup on Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves, and Ramiez was playing his third game since missing two months because of a shoulder injury.
On Tuesday, they couldn’t muster much against Atlanta’s Javier Vazquez and lost, 2-1.
“It’s not the game yesterday, it’s over the course of 81 games, we’re 15th in the league in runs scored,” Piniella said. “It’s very difficult to do unless you’re getting a lot of shutouts from your pitching staff and that’s something very difficult to do, too. You have to score more runs more consistently if you want to win. That’s not only the Chicago Cubs, that’s the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals or any other team you want to name.
“You’ve got to score runs if you want to win with any consistency,” he said. “We’ve talked many times in the three years I’ve been here about five runs being the benchmark if you want to win with consistency. We’ve played 81 games, you multiply five times 81 and that’s over 400 runs. We’re quite short of it.”
The Cubs have scored 337 runs, an average of 4.2 per game. What’s been tough for Piniella — and Cubs fans, too — to understand is why Milton Bradley is batting .241 after hitting .321 last year, or why Alfonso Soriano has skidded to .230. Geovany Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, also was hitting .230.
* Rich Harden will get things started after the All-Star break, starting July 16 at Washington in the first game of a seven-game road trip east. All-Star Ted Lilly would likely start July 18 against the Nationals.
* Congrats to Erin Leyden of Chicago, who will be honored at the All-Star Game Tuesday in St. Louis. She was selected as the Cubs’ everyday All-Star. Major League Baseball and People magazine picked the nominees. Leyden runs a foundation to help families who have children suffering from epilepsy.
* Carlos Zambrano stopped by the press box at Wrigley Field before the game and sang part of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the booth. He was just getting his cardio work in.
— Carrie Muskat