You know, I really thought the Cubs were going to win this one.
This represents a shift in the way I've been looking at this year's team, as you know. I've been critical of the way it was built, but I give this team credit for playing winning baseball recently (15-12 from May 17 through Monday) and beginning to win games on the road, where they've had a horrific mark since the middle of 2013.
And so, when the Cubs overcame sketchy fielding by Starlin Castro (who threw away what looked like an easy double-play ball) in the first inning that gave the Marlins a run and scored three of their own, capped by a Junior Lake home run, I thought, "Hmmm. This team is learning how to overcome its own mistakes."
And even though Jeff Samardzija made a fielding error of his own, helping the Marlins score a couple of runs to tie the game, the Cubs came back and took a 4-3 lead on a Luis Valbuena double in the seventh. Looking good! Also, credit to Valbuena for another two-hit game. His two doubles brought his BA up to .292; he's having a fine year. So is Castro at the plate -- Castro posted his 20th double of the season and is on pace for a 47-double season. That would tie him for the eighth-most in a season in Cubs history (Rogers Hornsby, 1929).
Unfortunately, Brian Schlitter wasn't up to the relief task Tuesday night, although it was very, very close. Garrett Jones' long fly to right field bounced off the top of the wall and over for a three-run homer that proved to be the difference in the Marlins' 6-5 win over the Cubs. If that ball is just a few inches lower, it likely goes for a double and only two runs score, since Schlitter retired the next two batters without incident.
Again, the Cubs impressed me by putting on a ninth-inning rally against Marlins closer Steve Cishek, who hadn't allowed an earned run in his previous seven appearances. Ryan Sweeney doubled, went to third on a passed ball (a risky move, because the ball bounced right back to catcher Jeff Mathis), and scored on a sacrifice fly. It wasn't enough, but it was more than the 1-2-3 ninth innings we've seen from recent Cubs teams in similar circumstances.
It was neither Samardzija's best outing of the season, nor his worst. According to this Tribune article, several scouts were watching, including scouts from the Giants and Blue Jays. Shark has been linked to the Blue Jays multiple times, and apparently now the Giants have interest, despite this tweet from a Giants beat writer:
I've heard the exact opposite than Nightengale about Samardzija, that barring injury #sfgiants have no plans to adjust rotation.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) June 15, 2014
I still expect Shark to be traded, as do more than 60 percent of you in a poll in this post on Samardzija contract extension talks posted yesterday. Cubs starting pitching (Edwin Jackson aside) has been one of the team's strengths this year. But if the team and Samardzija can't come to a contract agreement, I would expect him to be traded by the deadline this year, given many teams' need for pitching and the large return he;'d bring given his outstanding season-to-date.
Give this Cubs team a lot of credit. They came from behind, coughed up the lead, then took it back before one bounce, essentially, cost them the game. They're playing much better baseball and they're starting to get me looking for them to win every day, instead of slog through more and more defeats. That's certainly a step in the right direction for this writer, as well as the ballclub.
It's a quick turnaround for the Cubs, as they will finish this series and road trip with a game that begins before noon Chicago time. Jake Arrieta will face Nathan Eovaldi. Russ La Croix' Heroes & Goats post for Tuesday night's game will post at 9 a.m. CT, and then today's game preview at 10 a.m. CT.