On Monday night the Cubs continued their road trip by opening a series in Pittsburgh. They were looking to bounce back from a three game sweep over the weekend at the hands of hated division rival St Louis, a series which saw our boys in blue crushed and pounded 23 to one in the run column. On paper things were not figuring to get any better, as the level of competition moved up one notch on the NL Central division totem pole against the second place Pirates.
What Went Right: After watching the Cubs pitching staff get slapped silly by the Cardinals, Jeff Samardzija’s spectacular outing was a relief to both the Cubs bullpen and anyone with a vested emotional interest in the North Siders. Samardzija had all of his pitches working on Monday night and really dominated the Pirates line up, as evidenced by his five strikeouts to just one walk and one hit allowed over eight scoreless innings. The former college wide receiver’s efforts were sorely needed because Erik Bedard of the Pirates was doing his part to go toe to toe with The Shark, at times making Cubs hitters look just plain silly on his way to racking up 11 Ks.
Despite giving up a hit, closer Carlos Marmol flashed a glimpse of the dominant form that has been rarely seen this year. He racked up two strikeouts on his way to his 12th save of 2012.
What Went Wrong: The Cubs offense continued their slump from over the weekend. In addition to Bedard’s strikeouts, the bullpen added a few more to bring the Cubs offensive total to 14 on the night. They were only able to scratch out four hits total, but thankfully the two loudest were a pair of doubles by Soriano that provided all the runs that Samardzija and Marmol would need.
While the play did not end up having an impact on the end result of the game, Samardzija failed to cover first base in the bottom of the fourth, which allowed Andrew McCutchen to steal an infield single. That mental lapse ended up being the lone hit The Shark would give up all night.
What Was Interesting: During the long top of the ninth in which the Cubs collected an insurance run, Samardzija was seen pacing back and forth in the dugout with a look of disappointment on his face. Apparently manager Dale Sveum had broken the news to The Shark that he would not be sent back out in the bottom half to go for the complete game one hitter. In the post game interview, Sveum blamed it on the long top half of the inning. Other reasonable excuses could have been Samardzija’s pitch count, which was at 99, and the fact that Marmol had not seen a save situation since July 19th.
However, there has to be some wondering as to whether Samardzija’s mental mistake of covering first base earlier in the game also played a part. Sveum did say that keeping Samardzija in to finish the game would have been a no brainer if the kid was just three outs away from a no hitter. If I were in Sveum’s shoes, I actually would have trotted out Samardzija to finish what he started. I would have rooted for a hitless ninth to preserve the one hitter, because that would have meant The Shark missed a no hitter due to not covering first, and that memory would be one never to be forgotten for the rest of his career.
Regardless, we may never get to hear Sveum’s true reason for not letting Samardzija go after the complete game, but judging from The Shark being able to crack at joke in a post game interview, the pitcher and manager do not have an issue with each other from the decision.