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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Short Hops: Big Z's resurgence good thing for him, Cubs

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Short hops, quick pops and backhand stops:

 So what do we make of Carlos Zambrano now?

And more importantly, what do the Cubs make of the head case who returned from suspension and now is 7-0 with a 1.07 ERA since Aug. 14? The ERA ranks second in the majors during that time only to Seattle's Felix Hernandez (1.06), who is in the middle of the AL Cy Young discussion. Zambrano also now has worked 13 consecutive scoreless innings.

This is the perfect showcase for Zambrano, isn't it? For a team that needs a fresh start in 2011, the Cubs cannot bring this emotional loose-cannon back. Too many times in the past, his emotional tantrums have sabotaged them. And do you really want young players like Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin to be influenced by that?

As for his current run, "I think he's adjusted to pitching with his stuff, whatever it is on a given day," pitching coach Larry Rothschild says.

The Cubs may be looking to move the ill-tempered Carlos Zambrano in the offseason. (AP)  
The Cubs may be looking to move the ill-tempered Carlos Zambrano in the offseason. (AP)  
Zambrano long ago lost the 97, 98 mph zip on his fastball and now ranges between 89 and 93, with some 94s and 95s mixed in. Some Cubs think the anger management sessions have helped sharpen Zambrano's focus.

Maybe. But trust is essential in a clubhouse, and too many times, Zambrano has broken faith with the Cubs. Do you trust him now?

As Rothschild says, "I've seen focus like this for a period of time. Time will tell."

Zambrano is due $11.875 million in 2011 and $18 million in 2012. The Cubs are going to have to eat some of that money regardless. There is an option of $19.25 million for 2013 that vests automatically if Zambrano ranks first or second in the 2011 Cy Young voting, or if he finishes in the top four in 2012 and is healthy at the end of the season.

He will never pitch better than he is right now. Can the Cubs entice someone to take him this winter? Will they try? Stay tuned.

 Biggest temptation for another club to take a chance on trading for Zambrano might be the dearth of quality starting pitching available on the free-agent market this winter. After Cliff Lee, there isn't much overly exciting: Carl Pavano, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brad Penny, Jake Westbrook and Javier Vazquez are among those who will be on the job market.

 One small piece of evidence as to why the rotation is a very scary thing for the Yankees as they head toward the playoffs: Over his past 25 starts, A.J. Burnett is 7-14 with a 6.30 ERA. After CC Sabathia, there is no sure thing for the Yanks on the hill this autumn.

 Of the various date changes regarding free agency, filing for arbitration, etc., announced Thursday by the Major League Baseball Players' Assn., keep this one in mind: Eligible players can file for free agency beginning five days after the World Series now, rather than 15 days afterward. Key thing there is, it shortens the exclusive negotiating window teams have with their own players.

 Know how the Major League Baseball Players' Assn. could earn a whole bunch of faith with the public? If it would take the moral high ground, instead of following the money, and canceling the grievance process that was to start Thursday whereby the union is trying to force the Mets to pay some $3 million in salary it withheld after suspending closer Francisco Rodriguez for belting his girlfriend's father. The time would be far better spent if the union told K-Rod to stop acting like a punk.

 The final countdown has begun on what is expected to be the end of Omar Minaya as Mets general manager and Jerry Manuel as manager. Both jobs are expected open as early as Monday, the day after the season ends.

 Manuel is a good man and deserves to manage in a better situation. Minaya is a good man who, in the end, was in over his skis as a GM. "Whoever gets that job, it's a mess," one veteran NL executive says. "On the scouting side, on the amateur side, it is a mess. They need to do something big. They need to get a GM in there and let him go to work."

 Lots of industry buzz expecting Pirates manager John Russell to be fired following the season.

 Current count of expected managerial openings this winter: Atlanta (Bobby Cox is retiring, Fredi Gonzalez probably gets the job), Florida (guess here is interim Edwin Rodriguez will not be retained), Mets (Jerry Manuel will be fired), Milwaukee (guess here is that Ken Macha, whose contract expires, will not be renewed), Cubs (don't-call-him-interim Mike Quade may be winning a job one day at a time, but whether the Cubs make a run at Yankees' skipper Joe Girardi will be interesting), Pirates, Diamondbacks (expect interim Kirk Gibson to be made permanent), Blue Jays (Cito Gaston is stepping down and the Jays are expected to interview more than a dozen candidates) and Mariners (interim manager Daren Brown is just keeping the seat warm).

 San Diego All-Star Adrian Gonzalez has been playing with a sore shoulder since mid-summer, which partly explains why his home run total is down (40 last year, 30 this year) and his batting average is up (.277 last year, .298 this year). Partly as a concession to the shoulder, Gonzalez has been hitting the ball the other way (toward left field) more often.

 Sweet revenge as Cincinnati clinched the NL Central for general manager Walt Jocketty as the Reds eliminated St. Louis. The Cardinals fired Jocketty following the 2007 season as organizational philosophy shifted, you'll recall, just one season after the club won the World Series. Jocketty and Cards manager Tony La Russa made a pretty good team -- they go back together to the Oakland organization in the 1980s -- and La Russa continues to hold Jocketty in high regard. "He's got a lot of best qualities," La Russa said earlier this month when I asked him the question. "I'll tell you, he never separated himself from the guys in uniform when we struggled. It wasn't, 'I've done my job.' ... It made a mark on a lot of guys who worked with him."

 One scout who has watched the Padres a lot this year says they better take advantage of this final series in San Francisco. "If they don't get to the playoffs this year, that's going to be sad because it might be awhile after this. Things can't go as good, and their bullpen can't be as good, as it was this year."

 Padres second baseman David Eckstein, sizing up the Padre playoff prospects, figures the NL West race with San Francisco and the wild-card slog with Atlanta will go deep into the weekend: "It's going to come down to the end. It's going to. There have been too many ups and downs for it not to."

 Wackiest walk-up music for at-bats: Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, whose chosen song at Coors Field is Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA. Tulowitzki says he does it for the kids in the crowd who are of that age and appreciate it.

 Ozzie Guillen Tweet of the Week (Sept. 26): "I love to get bullfight videos let me know".

 Guillen Tweet of the Week Part II, a follow-up to the preceding tweet: "Big fan."

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