Cubs 3, Pirates 1: A Rare Opening Day Win

Justin K. Aller

Two key parts of the Cubs' future core -- Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija -- helped lead the team to victory on a cold Opening Day in Pittsburgh. And what are the Cubs going to do with Carlos Marmol?

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- If you think the Cubs' 3-1 Opening Day win over the Pirates was easy -- and Jeff Samardzija made it look easy for eight innings -- consider this: since 2007, the Cubs have won the first game of the season just once, a 4-2 win over the Astros on April 6, 2009. That includes three Cubs teams with winning records and two playoff teams. That's right, neither the 2007 nor the 2008 NL Central champion Cubs won their first game.

Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs' No. 1 starter. And Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh, he sure looked like A No. 1 starter, period. Two hits allowed -- a single to Neil Walker, a double by Andrew McCutchen. One walk, nine strikeouts, never seriously in trouble in any inning, 110 pitches thrown, 71 for strikes. About the only thing he didn't do was hit (told ya!) -- he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. I was a bit surprised that Dale Sveum let him throw the eighth inning -- but I like that. Why not? When a pitcher's on a roll like Samardzija was, I think he should be allowed to go as long as he can. He was still throwing 96 MPH in that eighth inning. 110 pitches seems like a lot for a pitcher's first start of the season, but if anyone can handle that, Samardzija seems like the type who can.

While Shark was doing his thing, Anthony Rizzo, who did not hit a home run in spring training (nor in 17 at-bats for Italy in the WBC), launched the first 2013 regular-season pitch he saw nearly into the Allegheny River for a two-run homer after Starlin Castro had kept the Cubs' no-no-hit streak going with the team's first hit of the year. That makes 7,502 games and counting in which the Cubs have had at least one hit, and it's the third consecutive season that Castro has singled in the first inning of the first game of the year. Castro also made several strong, and more importantly, accurate throws from shortstop on grounders to the infield grass.

Cubs hitters struck out 15 times Monday afternoon, 10 of them by A.J. Burnett. That's not a good thing, but Burnett happens to be a good pitcher, and when a guy throws strikes like that, a good hitter like Rizzo can take him deep.

The only little glitch was an error made by Brent Lillibridge on a play that Darwin Barney would have handled easily, but Lillibridge made up for it later with a better play. Obviously, he's not going to be as good as Barney defensively -- who is? -- and he might not get all the starts at second base, so as to preserve his versatility. I suspect we'll see a fair amount of Alberto Gonzalez at second until Barney is back.

Have you noticed I haven't mentioned Carlos Marmol yet? There's good reason for that, since he nearly blew the game. It was traditional Marmol: throwing pitches in the dirt, hitting a batter, allowing a stolen base, then giving up a rope of a single and a walk. Thanks to James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa (the latter making his major-league debut and getting his first big-league save) for saving the game. Really nice work by Fujikawa, getting a save on just two pitches.

Seriously, what are the Cubs going to do with Marmol? He's been bad all spring. This game was just like almost all of his spring performances. Is he done? If you continue to let him pitch like this, he's not going to be tradeable, and the Cubs will lose games. I don't know what the answer is.

This was my first listen to Len and JD as a team, and I liked what I heard. At times, I thought JD was speaking too quickly, maybe trying to get too many thoughts out at once, but the two of them discussed baseball -- not that I ever had a problem with the fun Len and BB had with ballpark food -- and I think they're going to be a fine team. It takes a while for broadcast teams to develop good chemistry, but these two are off to a great start.

Back in Chicago, talks continued at City Hall on the Cubs' Wrigley Field renovation proposal; there was a Cubs self-imposed deadline of today, but who knows? Maybe that'll get pushed back a day or two, or maybe they'll come to agreement later Monday. Theo Epstein understands what's at stake:

"I think it’s fundamentally important to get us to the next level as an organization. We have a baseball plan and we have a business plan, and they’re timed to sync up with one another, they’re inter-dependant.

"And if we don’t get our Wrigley renovation done in a timely manner and done the right way, then we can’t accomplish our business objectives and that will certainly get in the way of us ultimately accomplishing our baseball objectives, so it’s very important."

I believe they'll get things done, and the restoration of Wrigley Field will begin soon, to be finished on the Cubs' five-year timetable, helping bring every part of the organization into the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are 1-0 for the first time in four years. Is that meaningful? Probably not, but it's better than being 0-1, and the dominance of Samardzija is a good sign for the future of this team.

We now have to wait more than 48 hours until the Cubs' next game, Wednesday night in Pittsburgh (what an odd schedule: day game, day off, night game, day game Thursday). Edwin Jackson will make his Cubs regular-season debut, and in the meantime, we'll have plenty to discuss here Tuesday, as I hit the road back to Chicago.

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