Well, that was strange.
Jeff Samardzija was throwing yet another dominant game when he made two mistakes:
- He threw two straight wild pitches, allowing the Braves to tie the game 1-1.
- He got upset and started walking toward plate umpire Alfonso Marquez after an inside pitch was ruled to have hit Chris Johnson.
Samardzija didn't pull a Carlos Zambrano, though you could tell he was pretty unhappy with the call. It appeared at first glance that the ball might have hit Johnson's bat, which would have made it a foul ball, but replays were inconclusive. The play loaded the bases, and right after that Samardzija gave up a two-run single to Ramiro Pena, who was only playing because of a minor injury to Andrelton Simmons. Pena came into the game a .231/.263/.284 hitter in 320 career at-bats, not the kind of guy who is likely to break up a tight game.
But he did. Such are the sorts of things that happen to the Chicago Cubs.
Samardzija was lifted after pitching one of the best games of his career; Michael Bowden gave up a run-scoring single to Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, and after that, with Hudson cruising and the Braves having an excellent bullpen, the Cubs really had no chance and the Cubs lost to the Braves 5-1, getting swept in a series they could have won.
Granted: the Cubs walk a fine line every single game, because their offense simply isn't good enough to overwhelm teams. Samardzija looked like he might have enough to keep the game close, or even in hand, until he made those two mistakes. He wound up with a career-high 13 strikeouts, four earned runs allowed (as Jim Deshaies said on the CSN broadcast, it didn't really seem possible that many runs had scored), and a loss.
So a road trip that could have gone 3-3 or even 4-2 winds up at 2-4; it's not a horrible result given the fact that the Braves are a playoff contender, but the Cubs are simply going to have to have better bullpen work and better hitting as three contending teams come into Wrigley Field for a 10-game homestand that starts Monday.
Sunday afternoon's game is just the 47th in major-league history (since 1916) where a team has struck out 16 times or more and still won the game. You might even remember a similar game played in Atlanta less than two years ago, August 14, 2011, when a not-very-good Cubs team struck out 18 times and made four errors and still won 6-5. Further, the Braves did the same thing just four days ago, when they struck out 16 times against the Phillies but won 9-2.
This team will eventually generate some runs; it'll help having Darwin Barney back instead of the completely ineffective Alberto Gonzalez at second base, but we are still a week away from that. In the meantime, Cubs pitchers are simply going to have to work as carefully as possible, because they have almost no margin for error.
The home opener Monday afternoon -- weather permitting -- will feature Edwin Jackson pitching against the Brewers' Marco Estrada. Milwaukee's missing Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez and might be without shortstop Jean Segura, who got hurt in Sunday's game. Sounds like time to take advantage.