Watching Jeff Samardzija mow through the Atlanta lineup early in Sunday’s game was reminiscent of Kerry Wood’s dominant performance against the Houston Astros fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, the Braves got to the Cubs’ right-hander in the sixth, touching him for a trio of runs that proved to be the difference in the series finale.
After retiring the dangerous Justin Upton on strikes, Samardzija walked Evan Gattis. A sharp ground ball off the bat of Dan Uggla looked like a double play ball, but a strong slide by Gattis pushed Castro off the bag, and led to his throw pulling Anthony Rizzo off the bag at first. The Braves’ Juan Francisco tagged a liner right at Starlin Castro, who couldn’t handle it, putting runners on the corners with two outs. After a Samardzija fastball hit first baseman Chris Johnson on the hand, Ramiro Pena singled to right, scoring a pair of runs, and ending the afternoon for the Cubs’ right-hander.
Michael Bowden came on in hope of holding the Braves to just the pair of runs, but Atlanta starting pitcher Tim Hudson singled to right, with the ball being deflected by Chicago second baseman Alberto Gonzalez, allowing Johnson to score and push the advantage to 4-1 heading to the seventh.
For the first five innings, Samardzija was the ace the Cubs so desperately need this season, mowing down the potent Atlanta lineup, notching 12 of his 13 strikeouts in the first five frames, including ten in the first four innings. He mixed speeds and changed locations superbly all afternoon, working well with both his mid-90s fastball and his off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance.
However, he finished the afternoon allowing four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings of work, including four hits, four walks, a pair of wild pitches and a career-best 13 strikeouts. Samardzija now leads Major League Baseball with 23 strikeouts in his two starts.
Yet again, the Cubs offense was nonexistent, managing just five hits over the course of the game. Through the first seven innings, Chicago tallied just two hits – one of which came via a leadoff double by David DeJesus in the top of the first. He came around to score later in the inning on an RBI groundout by Anthony Rizzo.
The biggest offensive threat for Chicago came in the top of the seventh, when after an Uggla error, the Cubs put men on first and second with two outs. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez opted for the southpaw Luis Avilan, who got pinch-hitter Scott Hairston to ground out to third, ending the threat.
Hudson was lights-out, throwing 6 2/3 innings of three-hit ball, allowing just the lone earned run in the first, while walking two and striking out seven – en route to his first win of 2013.
The loss drops Chicago to 2-4 on the young season, while moving Atlanta to 5-1 on the season, first in the National League East, after Washington fell to Cincinnati Sunday afternoon. The Cubs open their 2013 home schedule Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field against Milwaukee. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m.