Best record in the majors. More comebacks than Meatloaf. Gobbling up opponents like grizzly bears at home in their den. Fresh off a nine-game winning streak, which ended with Wednesday night's 2-1 loss in San Diego.
The Chicago Cubs, by the numbers:
The Three-Finger Numbers
Not only do the Cubs own baseball's best record at 38-22, they owned the best record in baseball on June 1 at 36-21.
Here's the spookiest number you'll find anywhere in the majors so far this year: Last time a Cubs team owned baseball's best record on June 1? A century ago, in 1908, when the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs were 23-13.
You might recall that is the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Oh, wait. You probably weren't born then. Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown was -- he led that pitching staff with 29 victories. Yes, he really had only three fingers on his right hand -- the others were chopped off in a farming accident.
"There's just a sense that we have a good team," said starter Ryan Dempster, who not only is 7-2 and predicted this spring that the Cubs would win the World Series (this year), but also can boast that all five of his fingers are still attached to his right hand. "We feel we can win every game when we come to the park. It's been an all-around team effort, and that really makes you feel good."
The Ivy-Covered Numbers
OK, so you weren't yet born when Three Finger, Tinker, Evers and Co. helped the Cubs to their last World Series win. You younger readers maybe will appreciate this, then: At 26-8 in Wrigley Field, the 2008 Cubs are off to their best home start in 90 years, since 1918.
Still can't quite relate? Try this: Before leaving for San Diego and Los Angeles this week, the Cubs completed their first unbeaten homestand of seven or more games since April 1970. They are 12-14 on the road, but it's a party nearly every time they play in Wrigley Field.
"It's unbelievable," said closer Kerry Wood, who has 16 saves in 20 chances. "I've never been a part of anything like it.
"I said several weeks ago, something felt different in the clubhouse. The way everybody gets along. The way everyone treats each other. It's an unbelievable feeling, like we're going to go out and play music after every game."
The Gabby Hartnett Memorial Numbers
Until Wednesday, the Cubs had led in every game they had played since May 9. That's a streak of 25 consecutive games. Last time the Cubs led in that many (or more) games in a row came in 1935, when Charlie Grimm was managing a club that led in 28 consecutive games from July 6-31. Hartnett, the NL MVP in '35, was the catcher for a club that lost a six-game World Series to Detroit.
Manager Lou Piniella's Favorite Numbers
Well, one of them, at least, is Dempster's 7-2 record. The Cubs' closer for most of the past three seasons -- he racked up 85 saves during that time -- Dempster so far is enjoying a highly successful run in his first foray back into a rotation since he started for Cincinnati in 2003.
"Dempster is 7-2," Piniella replied when asked to name the biggest difference in this year's Cubs (non-Kosuke Fukudome department) from last year's. "(Geovany) Soto, we're getting a lot of production out of our young catcher -- both hitting-wise and with the pitching. Our catchers last year did a nice job with our pitchers, but we're getting some offensive production from our catcher, some power."
Soto is hitting .283 with 10 homers and 39 RBI, and he is tied for third in the NL with 19 doubles.
The Job Numbers
As in, Patience of Job. It's something for which recent-vintage, free-swinging, grip-it-and-rip-it Cubs hitters have never been known. But look who's leading the majors with a .365 on-base percentage.
Last year's Cubs ranked a distant ninth in the NL with a .333 on-base percentage. Two years ago, the 99-loss '06 Cubs ranked a pathetic 16th (that's last) in the NL with a .319 on-base percentage.
You want the biggest reason the Cubs lead the majors with 341 runs scored, there it is. Not only is the Cubs' lineup stocked with dangerous hitters such as Alfonso Soriano, Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Soto and others, they have a plan and they're being smart about it.
It's probably not a coincidence that the numbers have risen as Gerald Perry came in as Piniella's hitting coach in '07 and as Fukudome arrived from Japan in '08.
"You don't talk about on-base percentage," Perry said. "You talk about working the count and getting a good pitch to hit. I don't want anybody looking for a walk, but you talk about staying inside the strike zone and attacking the pitch you want to attack."
Consider this year's Cubs good listeners.
The Ron Santo-Would-Be-Proud Numbers
Over 16 major league seasons, Santo compiled a .362 on-base percentage. The Cubs then went through roughly 1,182 third basemen before acquiring Ramirez from Pittsburgh in 2003. Always a low-strikeout, dangerous hitter, Ramirez (.312, nine homers, 40 RBI) has honed his batting eye even more under the resumed tutelage from Perry, his one-time mentor with the Pirates.
As the Cubs' on-base percentage has improved, Ramirez this season has 34 walks -- only one less than his 35 strikeouts -- in 205 at-bats over 56 games. Ramirez walked only 43 times over the entire 2007 season (506 at-bats, 132 games).
Ramirez's '08 on-base percentage is .423, fifth in the NL. Compare that with his lifetime .336 OBP coming into this season, or his .366 OBP in '07.
"He swings at strikes," Perry said. "And he doesn't strike out a lot. That's awesome to have in the middle of your order. If you're a middle-of-the-order guy with power who doesn't strike out a lot and will take a walk?"
Why, then, you just might find yourself excelling in this next department. ...
The It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over Numbers
Not only have each of the Cubs' past eight victories been come-from-behind, they lead the majors with 20 comeback wins (Philadelphia is second with 19 and Houston is third with 17).
The Cubs will ...
Win it all
Miss the postseason
Lose in the playoffs
Lose in the World Series
Total Votes: 9,580
Some have been rather mundane. Some have been of the bite-your-fingernails variety.
One was utterly, ridiculously fantastic. It was last Friday when, as Colorado led 8-0 and 9-1, Piniella used the occasion to pull his Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Lee and Soto, to get them some extra rest. Because Ramirez and Ryan Theriot didn't start, Piniella essentially was waving the white flag at that point.
"Shows the depth of the team," utilityman Mike Fontenot said. "Guys were pinch-hitting, making nice plays in the field. ..."
"Everyone always looks at that (Colorado) game because it was 9-1," Dempster said. "But we feel like we always have a chance to score."
Soon as they step into the on-deck circle.
The Far East Numbers
If there was one thing we knew about Fukudome when he arrived, it was that he had a penchant for getting on base during his years in Japan. Over nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, he compiled a .397 on-base percentage. He was named the Central League's Most Valuable Player in 2006.
What nobody could know was the marvelous way in which Fukudome, who immediately became a fan favorite, would fit in -- both on and off the field. His .404 on-base percentage ranks ninth in the NL. His .377 Wrigley Field batting average is the third-highest home batting average in the NL. He has reached base in 44 of 57 games he has played with the Cubs.
That's the visible stuff. The stuff you maybe don't know unless you watch him every day and spend time in the Cubs' clubhouse?
"Best right fielder in the league," Perry said.
"He's a great teammate. He gets along with everybody. He might be one of the most popular players in that clubhouse. I don't mean with the fans, I mean among his teammates."
"Wonderful guy," Fontenot said. "Great sense of humor. Very aware of how things go here, of our culture. You can speak to him and get your point across pretty easily. He's a very smart guy."
The Derrek Lee Powerball Numbers
Lee, who was in contention for the NL Triple Crown in 2005 and won the batting title, already has 13 homers.
Last year, he didn't belt No. 13 until Aug. 14.
The Better Stick Around Numbers
These Cubs lower the boom late. Related to the fact that they lead the majors in comebacks: They have outscored their opponents 46-16 in the seventh inning this season and 44-24 in the eighth.
"I knew we've scored a lot of runs late, but I didn't know that," Perry said. "I just know we've been pretty blessed in putting together whatever we've had to put together."
The Cubs have, however, been outscored 23-12 in the ninth inning this season.
Of course, the Cubs haven't batted in the bottom of the ninth in 25 of their 26 Wrigley Field wins. Kind of inhibits their ability to score in the ninth, no?
The What Makes the Manager Nervous Numbers
The combination of leading in 25 consecutive games before Wednesday with the fact that 14 of the Cubs' past 18 games (and 34 of 60 overall) have been decided by two or fewer runs means that Piniella is riding key relievers Wood, Carlos Marmol and Bobby Howry awfully hard.
Wood and Marmol each have 31 appearances, tied for fourth in the NL. Piniella made sure to give Marmol a day off Tuesday after he had pitched four times in five days. Wood was off limits Wednesday after he had appeared in seven of the past nine games.
The Cubs' rotation -- Dempster, Carlos Zambrano (8-1), Ted Lilly (5-5), Jason Marquis (3-3) and Sean Gallagher (3-1 in place of the demoted and disappointing Rich Hill) -- ranks sixth in the NL in innings pitched. As Piniella says, it's not an "innings" staff. The Cubs might reach a point where they need to shuttle a middle reliever or two between the bigs and Triple-A Iowa just to freshen up the arms.
This is not a perfect team -- Soriano's defense in left field has hurt them at times and could in the future. Theriot is gritty at short, but not a Gold Glover. Same with DeRosa at second. But with Soto behind the plate, the Cubs are steady at a key position. And as long as Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild can avoid overtaxing their solid bullpen ...
The Door Slamming Numbers
Wood, slowly moving beyond his injury-racked years as a starter, has converted 16 of 20 save opportunities.
The Cubs are 31-2 when leading after five innings this season.
They're 29-1 when leading after six, 33-1 after seven and 34-3 after eight.
"It's baseball," said Alan Trammell, Piniella's bench coach. "Ride the wave as long as you can."