With a statistical difference that doesn’t even count as legally under the influence in any state of the union, the Cubs pulled ahead of the Brewers yesterday with a .538 percentage over the Brewers .537 in the NL Central. Possibly the Cubs have been lifted of late by the non-steroid, high-on-life shot in the glass arm morale boost of a young fella named Kerry Wood who has warmed up several games in a row now without a call to local Tennessee Blue Cross. As the Cubs Carrie Muskat reports, the width of the Cubs’ lead is only matched by the 1 2/3 endurance of Mr. Wood’s arm:

Wood threw 1 2/3 innings on Tuesday night for Double-A Tennessee in his final rehab outing, and passed all tests on Wednesday. The Cubs plan on activating him Friday for their game against the New York Mets.

“All systems are go, and I would think Friday would be the day,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Wednesday.

Wood, sidelined because of a cranky right shoulder, will be used in relief, most likely in the middle innings and not late or as the closer. At least not now. The goal is to build up stamina and arm strength and, most important, keep him healthy.

(Archer, 1-year-old as of July 31st, looking like a typical Dodger fan, except that he stays for the whole game.)

A “cranky right shoulder?” Is that the diagnosis after three years? I hate to be a cynic, but at this point, I think Wood has been mathematically eliminated from completing a nine-inning season. With Wood only coming back now, and my Opening Day 2007 pretty much coming on my birthday, May 30th, with a trip to Chavez Ravine, not to mention a certain one-year-old (and two days) distraction in the house (pictured), I’d like to say that August 2nd 2007 is as good a start of the season as any for this Cubs fan. My son’s an LA native, so I’m raising him a Dodger fan, as every dad wants better for his kid, right?

That said, my hat’s off to the Cub’s Len Kaspar, the friendly host, who, as late as August, can still pad a long, ponderous shot of Piniella in the dugout with a snoozy … “Sweet Lou …” as if the nickname just ocurred to him. It may sound nit-picky, but it just summed up the dull, palsy-walsy, Cubist broadcasts since Steve Stone left. At least Harry Caray was drunk when he babbled.

As to the NL Central, I will only say this for now: The idea that the Brewers were the unchallenged, first place team in the Midwest was a bit absurd from the beginning. They are an average team in a division of improbable screw-ups, which won’t last all year, and is already changing. I can’t believe the Cards can’t pull it together any better than this, and the Cubs certainly have the talent to take it away from the Brewers. I mean, that .537 they’re generating is against the weakest division in baseball for God’s sake.