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Lee carrying Cubs' offense

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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DETROIT

Alfonso Soriano is batting .224. Geovany Soto is batting .222. Aramis Ramirez is still on the disabled list.
And then there's Derrek Lee, hitting in a career-best 20 straight games, leading the Cubs with 37 RBIs, as constant as revelry at the Cubby Bear. "He can hit," teammate Milton Bradley said Tuesday. "I don't know why, a lot of times, people look for something to criticize guys (about) when they're as solid as D-Lee. It never looks like he's working hard out there, but he makes all the plays in the field. He takes a solid at-bat. Good approach. He always seems to know what the situation dictates. "He's a very intelligent guy. He works hard. He puts it all together." Lee isn't about to make a big deal about his hitting streak, but it is the best one going in the majors right now. In fact, he has the second-longest streak in the National League this year, behind Ryan Zimmerman (30). So far, though, no one has said much about it. "Not at all," Lee said Tuesday afternoon. "It hasn't been a topic. I don't think it's long enough to really be a topic." Well, give it some time. But even with Lee swinging well, Lou Piniella's team is in an almost-daily struggle to stay out of fourth place. Without him, they might be chasing Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates. Lee, a weekend hero at Wrigley Field, was at it again Tuesday in Detroit. His run-scoring fielder's choice gave Chicago a 1-0 lead in the first. His double nudged Bradley into scoring position prior to Soto's sacrifice fly in the sixth. His two-out, off-the-fists single set up Micah Hoffpauir's go-ahead home run in the eighth. Lee would have had a perfect night — if only he could have pitched the ninth inning, too. Instead, it was Kevin Gregg who served up Ryan Raburn's pinch-hit, two-run walk-off homer into the visiting bullpen at Comerica Park. The Cubs lost, 5-4, and fell 3½ games back of St. Louis in the National League Central. The temptation is there to howl about Gregg's lousy night and question whether he can close on a championship-caliber team. I have some doubts about that myself. But this was his first loss since April 10, and his third blown save of the season, so let's not get carried away. Hitting is the bigger issue with this team. It's been that way all year. Last season, they led the National League with 855 runs. But they have scored only 284 this year, tied for 25th in the big leagues, including the majors' third-lowest output on the road (125). Soriano, Soto and Bradley started slowly. Ramirez was lost on May 9 to a dislocated left shoulder, and he will only begin taking live batting practice this week. The injuries and underperformance have made for an erratic lineup. Gerald Perry, fired as the hitting coach on June 14, was the first casualty. This is not a great Chicago team. In fact, this is not even a very good Chicago team. But it is a contending Chicago team. And that is thanks to Derrek Lee. "He's such a leader for our club," Randy Bush, the team's assistant general manager, said Tuesday. "His numbers, how hot he's been — that speaks for itself. It's the other things. He goes from first to third in a big spot. He's going to advance on a ball in the dirt. "He's going to do things that show leadership. He really wants to win badly. That's a great example for everybody else." Not long ago, Lee was one of the Cubs' struggling veterans. Bothered by neck spasms early in the season, he was batting .189 at the end of April. But he's hitting .345 with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in 37 games since, according to Retrosheet.org. Now, his average is up to .292. Of Lee's neck injury, Bradley said, "He didn't really talk about it too much. We knew he was being treated for it. He was out of the lineup when we found out about it. He took the steps to get that squared away and got right back in there. He doesn't complain. He doesn't ask for days off. He just goes out there every day." Lee had one of the best at-bats Tuesday — for either side — when he dug in against fireballer Joel Zumaya in the eighth. Zumaya was throwing 100 mph or thereabouts and dispatched the first two hitters without the ball leaving the infield. Lee was different. He took the first pitch for a strike and then muscled an inside fastball into shallow left-center. Hoffpauir witnessed the encounter from the on-deck circle and said later, "He's back into a rhythm, a routine, where he's wearing (pitchers) out. It's a lot of fun to watch." Judging from the way Bush talked Tuesday, the Cubs aren't heavy into the market for hitters. ("We'd like to get Aramis back, see how that solidifies our lineup and go from there," he said.) So, the team has to hope that its other key hitters — particularly Soriano and Soto — find their respective strokes the same way that Lee did. Otherwise, Gregg won't have too many late leads to save or squander during these summer months.
Tagged: Tigers, Cubs, Nationals, Pirates, Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Kevin Gregg, Ryan Raburn, Ryan Zimmerman, Joel Zumaya, Geovany Soto, Andrew McCutchen

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