Before I get to Jeff Samardzija's magnificent pitching performance and the Cubs' solid offense from Monday's 7-0 win over the White Sox, I wanted to point out that the Cubs also did a little something that must have pleased Theo Epstein very, very much.
In scoring a run -- the only one they'd need, as it turned out -- in the first inning on a walk, a stolen base and a single, they made White Sox starter Jose Quintana throw 24 pitches. This is something Theo's been wanting to emphasize -- taking more pitches, being more patient, working counts. Even though Quintana wound up striking out the side, the long pitch counts must have helped later on in the game.
Meanwhile, Samardzija was awesome. In by far the best pitching performance of his career, he threw his second career complete game and first career shutout, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks, and he had given up just one of each entering the ninth inning. He threw just 92 pitches in the first eight and you could tell he was starting to run out of gas when he got Alex Rios to pop up to Darwin Barney to end the game. But this is what we had all hoped to see from Shark -- total dominance. He threw 96 in the first inning, and was still bringing 96 mile-per-hour heat in the ninth. He struck out eight and just eight baseballs (two hits and six fly outs) left the infield.
More of this, please. Samardzija lowered his ERA to 2.85 and WHIP to 1.046 with the shutout, the first thrown by a Cubs pitcher on the road since Randy Wells threw a similar two-hit blanking over the Giants in San Francisco August 29, 2011. I'm thinking Samardzija has a brighter future with the Cubs than Wells did.
Meanwhile, the offense got into high gear starting in the middle innings, when Julio Borbon homered, his first as a Cub, after a Ryan Sweeney walk. Another run scored on a sacrifice fly by Scott Hairston in the sixth. Then Nate Jones relieved Quintana in the seventh. Jones was a solid reliever for the Sox over the last couple of years, but has struggled this year, and the Cubs hit him hard, the big blow a two-run triple from Anthony Rizzo. That ball was misplayed by Sox CF Alejandro De Aza, who turned the wrong way on the ball. (We'll take it.)
There are times when this Cubs team looks very, very good and does everything right. Monday night was one of those times. More, please.
The crowd of 30,631 was about 10,000 short of capacity at the Cell, and somewhat surprisingly, on a cool night with the Blackhawks playing, it looked like the in-house count was pretty close to the announced total. There were more Cubs fans than you might have expected with no buzz for this series and the Cubs entering the game in last place, maybe 40 percent of the total. The Sox fans were taken out of the game early with the Cubs scoring the early run and Shark being dominant, and after the seventh, with the Cubs up 7-0, most of them streamed out of the ballpark, likely headed to watch the Hawks tie up the series. Again, most of these "rivalry" series have lost any special feeling; they didn't sell out in New York or Los Angeles either. (The Nationals/Orioles game did, but likely because both of those teams made the postseason in 2012 and are contenders again.) It was the second-smallest announced crowd in the 91-game history of the Cubs/White Sox interleague series.
And about the holiday camouflage uniforms: if the intent was to show how well camouflage worked, they succeeded. On the Cubs' gray road jerseys, the lettering and numbering was rendered nearly unreadable by a white border around the letters and numbers (the same was true for several other teams). The effect produced was similar to what the NBA did last Christmas with their jerseys having numbers with the same color as the jersey. Who thinks of these things? If they had put a dark-colored border on the numbers, they would have been rendered at least readable. Even on TV, they must have been hard to read. In person, it was impossible.
Cubs double watch: two Monday night, season total 113, 2.26 per game. The current pace would give them 366, still on pace to shatter the team record (340).
The win, coupled with the Brewers' loss to the Twins, got the Cubs out of last place in the N.L. Central. (Hey, small victories.) They looked really good Monday night. I'd like to see more of that. The teams will meet at the Cell again Tuesday in much warmer conditions with a chance of thunderstorms. And uniforms with names and numbers you can actually read.