Rich Harden K'd seven and walked none against Washington. If he could only pitch against them more often.
If the Chicago Cubs could play the Washington Nationals 20 times from now until October rolls around, they would have no problem picking up their third National League Central Division title. And if the North Side Nine could somehow schedule the Nasty Nats into their October schedule, they might even find a way to win an NL Pennant.
Alas, the Nationals won't sniff the playoffs but if the Cubs keep playing like they did in Thursday's 6-2 win, they will be just fine.
It seemed as if everyone has told their opinion about the Cubs' keys to success in the second half. But none of them were as snarky as I'm about to be. So, behold, your keys to success.
1. Memo To Rich Harden: Don't Suck. While Rich Harden is half the man CC Sabathia is (yes, a CC fat joke), he might have been the bigger prize of last season's NL Central arms race if only because he could make an impact for two years. Unlike his stellar second half, Harden fell on hard times (see what I did there?) with a slow start out of the gate. He posted a 5-6 record, a 5.47 earned run average, a 1.571 WHIP despite striking 83 guys in 74 innings.
For Harden to be successful in the second half, he can't walk people. if he does, they come around to score. And if they come around to score, that puts monumental pressure on a Cubs offense that has enough problem scoring one run, let alone two. Maybe if he could face the Nationals and Pirates more often, he could return to last year's form.
2. Get Ya Rick Ross On & Hustle Your Ass Off. Run out every ground ball. Every pop up. Every homer. Everything. Remember when Lou Piniella was supposed to scare the stripes off these guys upon entering the Friendly Confines, well, that hasn't really worked out so far this season.
Alfonso Soriano lollygags on the basepaths and then procedes to gag on breaking balls in the dirt and fly balls in the outfield. Milton Bradley rolls over on a change-up and drags his ass to first base. Pitchers not getting over to cover first base. That's got to stop. Immediately.
I want singles turned into doubles and doubles turned into triples. I want guys to beat out sacrifice bunts and to take the extra base when possible. I've talked to high school kids who understand that you can put an immense amount of pressure on the defense if you look like you're playing hard.
Why can't some of the Cubs?
3. Dear Mr. Soriano: Run. Alfonso Soriano was a dangerous player when he joined the Cubs in 2007. He hit 40 homers and 40 doubles ... but also stole 40 bases in 159 games with the Nationals in 2006. Since joining the Cubs, Soriano has 45 swipes in 325 games.
Pitchers' only fear when Soriano steps to the plate currently is if they leave a fastball over the heart of the plate. Now that he is hitting in the six-hole, pitchers can theoretically walk Soriano without losing their sleep. But pitchers could become restless if Soriano starts putting his wheels in motion to give the bottom of the order some RBI chances.
4. Get Well, Soon, Ryan Dempster. One day, I will forgive Ryan Dempster for his gag-inducing performance in Game 1 of last year's NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. For it was his four earned runs and seven walks in 4.2 innings that led the Cubs down the slippery slope of chokedom and me down the slippery slope of drinking Jack Daniels until I felt better about life.
Dempster earned an All-Star spot last year because of a 10-4 first half, but it was his 7-2 second half record that really sparked the Cubs' playoff run. Whenever Dempster returns, I would rather see the Demp that had a WHIP of 1.256 WHIP and a 2.53 ERA in 13 second-half starts.
Also, no more practical jokes or fence-climbing celebrations. Just pitch and you will be loved forever. If you pitch well and make the playoffs, of course.
5. Aramis Ramirez's (Relatively) Healthy Return. Let's make this clear, your favorite celebrity whore has a better chance of curing the herp than Aramis Ramirez does of making a 100 percent recovery from his early season shoulder injury. However, Ramirez at 75-80 percent is better than Aaron Miles, Mike Fontenot or anyone else on the Cubs roster who played the hot corner in Ramirez's stead in the first half at 100 percent.
Before the injury, A-Ram was on pace for an MVP-like season. If Ramirez can't get back to that pace, the least he can do is be a decoy. Bat him fourth or fifth and let pitchers pitch around him in fear and hope that someone else can pick him up.
BONUS: Milton Bradley, Shut Up & Play The Game. I desperately want to be Milton Bradley's biggest fan. He plays right field, which I played as a child. He wears No. 21, which is my favorite number. And he plays for the Cubs, which is my favorite team. Duh. Also, he is batsh*t crazy and seems to be as passionate about the game of baseball like the fans in the right field bleachers. But you're not going to appeal to the fans by forgetting the number of outs, missing routine fly balls or batting .237.
However, things have been looking better for Bradley. His on-base percentage has gone up every month as has his plate discipline. If Crazy Uncle Milton can turn some of those quality at bats in homers and doubles, he could endear himself to Cubs fans quicker than a pretty blonde in the bleachers who is showing her cleavage.