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Thursday, July 18

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Cubs Thu Jun 12 2008

Hand It To The Cubs: They'll Survive

On any other team it would seem like the end of the world, or at least the end of a season.

Your marquee player, the one who leads the team in home runs and is fourth in RBI goes down with a broken hand for at least six weeks, a span in which your team faces an AL Division leading team, two of the hottest teams in baseball who are both in the thick of their own division race, and two feisty opponents from your own division, both poised to cut into your slim division lead.

But the way the Cubs have been playing lately, this may be nothing more than a blip on the radar.

When outfielder Alfonso Soriano was plunked on the hand by Atlanta pitcher Jeff Bennett at Wrigley Field Wednesday night, breaking a bone (a minimally displaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal, for the doctors in the crowd), you could hear the groans and cries of “Here we go again” all the way to Irving Park. The team has been cruising along with a 7-3 record in their last 10 games, a 28-8 record at home and a 2 ½ game lead in the NL Central. So something had to go wrong…. Right?

Soriano, who leads the team in home runs with 15 (along with a .283 batting average and 40 RBI), is expected to miss at least six weeks and to some fans it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Without “The Fonz”, how will the team emerge from a stretch that included games with the White Sox, their cross-town rival and AL Central leaders; the Tampa Bay Ray and Florida Marlins, in second place in the AL East and NL East, respectively; and the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, both breathing down the neck of the Cubs in the NL Central race?

Quite well from the looks of things. This season the Cubs have been blessed (“Blessed” and “Cubs” in the same sentence?) with guys who have stepped up when they were needed. In this scenario, manager Lou Pinella might send Reed Johnson to left, not a bad choice considering he’s hit a respectable .267 in 165 at-bats and has a pretty nice glove to boot (his diving, crashing-into-the-wall catch earlier this season was instant highlight reel stuff). There’s also the possibility that Johnson can bat leadoff as well and the Cubs are 8-4 when he hits in the one spot. Or Pinella may opt to move versatile Mark De Rosa, who’s batting .313 with 35 RBI, over from second base.

But as for the predictions of dark days by the national media? Forget it. Heck, the team went a respectable 9-5 earlier this season when Soriano missed several games after injuring his calf on one of his peculiar hop-catch moves in left. Not the best record over 14 games but not exactly a nosedive either. Here’s betting it won’t happen now either.

 
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