SAN DIEGO -- After Rich Harden threw seven scoreless innings Wednesday night to lead the Cubs to a 7-1 victory over the Padres, the team headed up Interstate 5 to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers in a rematch of last year's playoff series.
The offense finally busted loose against the Padres, with Aramis Ramirez homering and driving in three runs to help the Cubs earn their first victory in six games at Petco Park. Milton Bradley added a solo homer.
Harden (8-7) struck out eight and allowed only one hit as the Cubs ensured they wouldn't fall further behind the division-leading Cardinals, who were playing in Los Angeles.
The Cubs go into L.A. with a much different vibe than last October. They are fighting to stay in contention, and 13 players on the current 25-man roster weren't on the postseason list last year.
With all the problems they have experienced this season, is it possible the biggest reason for their disappointing record is they just haven't come together?
Derrek Lee shot down that theory, saying it's just an old baseball stereotype.
"It always happens," Lee said. "When teams are winning, they say everyone is getting along, and when you're not ... When you're in the batter's box, I guarantee you're not thinking about who you get along with and who you don't. We just have been consistent swinging the bats, and that's the bottom line."
No one knows but the players and coaches what goes on inside the clubhouse when the doors are closed. But most observers surmise that this year's team is not nearly as close as last year's club. The loss of team leaders such as Kerry Wood, Henry Blanco and Mark DeRosa has changed the complexion of the clubhouse.
"It takes a while for things to mesh, and sometimes they don't," manager Lou Piniella said. "Winning with more consistency helps things come together a lot quicker, and we haven't won with the consistency we had hoped for. It has been a struggle, even when we have won games. They haven't come easily. What can you do?"
The Cubs could use a spark in the lineup, and showing some emotion on the field might help.
"[But we don't] have the luxury here of having young kids we can bring up and put on the field to provide a little more energy, and possibly jump-start [the team]," Piniella said. "We don't have that. So our veteran players are going to have to dig in and get it done."
Bradley, who hit his first homer since July 30, was supposed to be that spark plug. But he has failed to produce the way the Cubs expected him to and appears more introverted than he was in March. General manager Jim Hendry isn't worried about Bradley's production.
"There's a history of guys who come in the first year of their deals, and it takes a while," he said. " Moises [Alou] was a good example of that. He couldn't have played much worse the first two-thirds of , and then gave us 2 1/2 good years.
"Milton has been playing hard. He has stayed healthier than any of us could have expected. His on-base percentage has been really good the last month."