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Samardzija's 11 K's, Valbuena's Double Lead Cubs Past Braves 4-1

Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs pitches to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs pitches to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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I had to look at the TV real hard Monday night and remind myself that I was watching the 2012 Cubs, who, even after defeating the Braves 4-1, are still 19 games under .500.

Solid pitching! 11 strikeouts from Jeff Samardzija, who followed up his horrendous June with an outstanding outing to begin July.

Timely hitting! Luis Valbuena came up with the bases loaded and nobody out and cleared them with a double, providing the runs that won the game.

Outstanding defense! Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo made slick defensive plays backing up Shawn Camp in the eighth inning to keep the lead at 4-1.

Maybe it's the Braves. Atlanta is one of the few teams with a winning record that the Cubs actually won a series from at Wrigley Field, back in May. The Cubs are now 3-1 against Atlanta this season and, with one more win in this series, would win the season series over a team that still has a shot at the playoffs.

Rizzo also hit his second home run since his recall; it gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. He also took the blame for a hesitation Starlin Castro made on a throw on a ground ball to deep short by Dan Uggla in the second inning. Here's more on what happened:

After Samardzija got out of the inning, Sveum went over to talk to Castro. Rizzo interceded, taking the rap for being slow to cover first because of a defensive shift.

"I took full blame," Rizzo said. "It's my fault, in my opinion. I told him before to give me a little time. That's just me, not knowing Uggla's speed. I thought I had time."

Sveum apologized to Castro.

"Not that I'd said anything, but Rizzo came to his rescue right away, said, 'It was my fault," Sveum said.

Not only outstanding offense since his recall, but already showing signs of becoming a team leader. What more could you ask for, especially since the defense Rizzo has shown so far appears to be better-than-average. Too bad about that play, because if not for that, Samardzija would have taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The next Atlanta hit was then, by Michael Bourn, who doubled and scored on a Martin Prado single, briefly tying the game at 1, until Valbuena's double in the top of the seventh.

The whole game was better-than-average. The Cubs have now won four in a row for the first time since they won seven straight last August. Dead-cat bounce? Maybe, but you can now begin to see the seeds of a good Cubs team to come, particularly in players like Rizzo and Samardzija. That game was definitely fun to watch.

Five straight will be tougher, because Chris Volstad is being recalled Tuesday (corresponding roster move to come; my guess is that Rafael Dolis will be sent back down) to start against the Braves' Jair Jurrjens. Volstad hasn't won in 19 straight starts dating back to last year. He'll have to be on his best game for the streak to be extended.