I have some advice for Jeff Samardzija, following the Cubs' 5-3 win over the Padres at Wrigley Field Monday night.
Hey, Shark: We know you can throw 95+, early and often. Your hair flaps around, you look intimidating on the mound, all of that. But too many pitches is going to result in too many early exits, too many times. That was the case Monday evening; Samardzija threw 101 pitches in just five innings. Eight strikeouts: great. Four walks, getting himself into trouble that resulted in the Padres tying the game in the fifth inning: not so great. I had pointed out in the recap to Sunday's game that Carlos Villanueva, who has now made five starts covering 35⅓ innings, has averaged just 13 pitches per inning. Strictly as a guess, without looking it up last night, I speculated that Samardzija might be averaging double that amount.
Well, I was off, and by quite a bit, but Shark is averaging more than Villanueva: 16 pitches per inning over the course of his eight starts. Monday night, that forced him out of the game. Fortunately, the Cubs continued their fine recent bullpen work; the pen threw four innings, allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out six, and James Russell played the role of "stopper", coming in with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and striking out Yonder Alonso and getting Jedd Gyorko to ground to third base. (Still can't believe that, with first base open, Dale Sveum didn't order Carlos Quentin intentionally walked; Quentin is a lifetime .316/.400/.614 hitter at Wrigley Field with four home runs in 57 at-bats. Quentin walked anyway on what looked like the most unintentional intentional walk ever.)
Kevin Gregg then came in with two out in the eighth when Russell got himself in trouble, and registered a four-out save. Gregg has been nothing short of spectacular since he was signed; he's done exactly what a closer should do, have efficient, low-pitch innings and shut down opponents. If he'd have done this four years ago, he never would have left. Talk about scrap-heap signings -- this is, at least so far, one of the best ones of the TheoJed regime.
Two other scrap-heap players were the key to the offense on the best weather day of the 2013 season so far; the wind was blowing out strongly, but temperatures in the upper 60s kept it pleasant. Scott Hairston, who wasn't (finally) signed until almost the start of spring training, homered; he now has two home runs and a single in 30 at-bats. (Hint: this isn't good. This is: the Cubs winning a game where their 1-2-3 hitters went 1-for-12.) Cody Ransom, a real scrap-heap acquisition just two weeks ago, followed Hairston's homer with his second of the year, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the second. Neither home run needed any wind help. They extended that to 3-1 in the fourth on a Darwin Barney double; after the Padres tied it up on Shark's walkathon inning in the fifth, Ransom and Barney drove in the decisive runs in the sixth, the latter after Padres starter Clayton Richard had left the game.
So the Cubs have won five of seven, most of them against teams they really should beat. We know the Marlins aren't very good, and the Padres seem about in the same proverbial boat. Their one truly good hitter, Chase Headley, missed the first two weeks of the season and is off to a so-so start; Quentin is just 4-for-19 since returning from his suspension following the Zack Greinke incident. Beyond that, Cubs pitching has been doing well enough that, once again, I would be disappointed if the team doesn't win at least three of the four games in this series. The Cubs also demonstrated some good glovework Monday night, with good plays being made by Ransom, Barney and Starlin Castro, helping the pitching staff register nine ground-ball outs to go with its 14 strikeouts.
The two teams will go at it again Tuesday night, with Edwin Jackson facing Edinson Volquez, on a day when the temperature is supposed to touch 80 degrees for the first time in Chicago in 2013. 'Bout time.