Well now, there's a contrast.
On the same day that the Washington Nationals decided they better shut Stephen Strasburg down "immediately" because he had a rough outing one start before his scheduled shutdown, Jeff Samardzija faced a similar scenario -- knowing that Saturday's start was to be his last of 2012. Nats manager Davey Johnson said he thought Strasburg might have been overthinking things. Would Samardzija fall victim to the same thing?
Not a chance. Shark started what he finished for the first time in his career, ending his 2012 season with a flourish and the Cubs won their first road series since before the All-Star break, defeating the Pirates 4-3.
Really, I read what I just wrote and shake my head. Could I be writing about the same team that earlier this week looked like a T-ball squad against the Nats?
It didn't start out that way. Shark had a rough first inning and gave up a pair of runs; he hit Andrew McCutchen and looked pretty bad.
But after that -- mastery. From the second inning on, Samardzija gave up just two hits and a walk, striking out nine in all, and in the eighth and ninth innings he was hitting 95+ with his fastball, Justin Verlander-style. Now, of course this doesn't mean Samardzija is nearly as good a pitcher as Verlander -- but this has proven to be a winning style for the Tigers ace, holding something back for the later innings. If Samardzija can work on perfecting this, maybe he can be the No. 1 starter the Cubs hope for.
Since his season is now over, I'll take this opportunity to say I was completely wrong in spring training when I said he'd be better off in the bullpen. Samardzija has had a fine year as a starting pitcher; he went at least six innings in 17 of his 28 starts and only three starts (the three where he got knocked out before the fifth inning ended) can be categorized as "bad". If not for a Starlin Castro error with two out in the ninth inning April 8, Shark would have had a CG five months ago.
He finishes with a 3.81 ERA in 174⅔ innings, 180 strikeouts and 56 walks, and a WHIP of 1.22. All of those numbers are very good. He'll turn 28 in January, and ought to be entering his best seasons. So that's at least one top pick by Jim Hendry that worked out.
In a season that's been so bad, here's at least one positive.
Another is the continued fine play of Alfonso Soriano, who homered again -- his 27th -- for his 92nd RBI. He's got a chance at a 30/100 season, something many thought impossible. It would be just the third such year of his career.
Tony Campana, starting the game in place of the banged-up Brett Jackson and batting ninth -- the first time since at least 1918 a Cubs starting pitcher didn't bat ninth in the starting lineup -- had two hits, and stole a base (his 27th). Maybe the Cubs should try this again. Starlin Castro also stole a base, his 23rd; it's a longshot, but he might have a chance at a 30-steal season.
They'll try for a series sweep Sunday afternoon. I keep looking at that sentence and wondering, "The 2012 Cubs? On the road?" But yes, it's true. The game preview will post at 11 a.m. CDT.