With Madison Bumgarner not pitching until Game 3 on Monday, the San Francisco Giants are in a need-to-win situation in Game 2 at Wrigley Field.
Former Northsider Jeff Samardzija returns to a park he knows intimately, going 31-42 with a 3.97 ERA in seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He turned down a 5-year $80 Million extension from the Cubs in 2014 and was traded to the Oakland A’s alongside Jason Hammel, bringing Addison Russell to Chicago.
The Shark Hunt Begins…
In March of this year, Samardzija told USA Today that the Cubs tried to sell him on their future in their contract negotiations. “It was the easy thing to do,” Samardzija told the outlet. “You can always sell the future, and people always buy it. It’s a great way to rebuild, and I understand that.”
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The Cubs’ approach hinged on the team’s plethora of young talent forecasting a bright future in the Windy City. Samardzija wasn’t buying it. “But as a veteran guy, it was becoming a joke…I just got so sick of hearing about it…There are certain things you don’t forget.” Samardzija said.
But, hey, patience isn’t a virtue held by everyone.
Cubs Plan of Attack
Nicknamed “The Shark” for obvious reasons, Samardzija will need to keep the ball down in order to beat this Cubs offense. When he does, Shark gets nearly 65% of strikes called, and keeps hitters to a 37% contact rate.
He’ll need to rely heavily on his off-speed pitches to be successful in this approach. Opposing batters hit sub-.200 against his curveball, changeup, slider, and splitter combined when located at the bottom of the zone.
Samardzija has a tendency to let his fastball sail, especially in high-adrenaline games. But, he’s going to need to control the strike zone with it in order to set up his off-speed offerings. He threw his fastball more this year than in 2015 with the White Sox, throwing it on nearly 50% of his pitches. Batters are hitting .291 against his fastball with an ISO of .219, highest since 2010.
To put ISO into context, Hanley Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox had the same power index in 2016.
Go ahead, bring the heater
Chicago is one of the best fastball hitting teams in the league. Their top-7 fastball hitters include Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Jorge Soler—all of whom rank 4+ runs above average against that pitch. Bryant and Dexter Fowler lead the way with 37 and 26 RAA.
Considering that Fowler (26.0), Bryant (37.0), and Rizzo (13.5) are typically the first three batters opponents face, it could be a long night for Shark if he doesn’t bring an A+ fastball.
If Cubs fans want a cherry-on-top for this situation, remember that we get Schwarber back in the lineup next season. In 2015, he ranked 4.2 RAA against fastballs and hit 54% of the one’s he saw at an average velocity of 96 MPH. He ranked seventh-highest on the team, even though he only appeared in half the games as others on the list.
The Giants will find themselves swimming in deep water if they come out of Wrigley down 0-2. Chicago, on the other hand, would love to add a Shark to their trophy collection from this year.