Cubs

Cubs, Samardzija need to find another gear

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Cubs, Samardzija need to find another gear

NEW YORK Jeff Samardzija wasnt shy in telling his bosses and the media that he belongs in the Cubs rotation.

Samardzija is physically gifted did you know he played football at Notre Dame? but as much as anything he has confidence and a competitive streak going for him.

At times, Samardzija has backed up his words and looked like someone youd want to take the ball in October. Youve also watched the ups and downs as he transitions out of the bullpen.

There are times where it all seems to happen in the same game. Samardzija wrapped up the first half of this experiment with Saturdays 3-1 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Samardzija (6-8, 4.71) and the Cubs (32-52) will need to find another gear. The offense looks like it could use the All-Star break, particularly Alfonso Soriano, who hasnt homered in more than a week and is 3-for-19 on this road trip. By throwing seven more innings, Samardzija is at 101.1 for the season, after accounting for 88 last year. He insists that he feels great.

Im just starting to hit my stride, Samardzija said. I really look forward to hitting the second half strong. Its going to a big thing for me, proving to these guys (that) as the season goes along, I stay strong.

I put in all the hard work in the offseason for this exact reason. Those innings get up and your body (and) your arms got to be strong to carry you through the season.

Coming out of the break, the Cubs have arranged their rotation Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Matt Garza, Travis Wood so that Samardzija wont start again until July 18 at Wrigley Field against the Miami Marlins.

With the heat rising to 94 degrees, Samardzija watched Jordany Valdespin hammer a 95 mph fastball over the right-center field fence. Ike Davis later reached down and drove an 0-2 splitter that slammed off the Pepsi Max sign on the second deck in right field for a two-run homer.

Ten days earlier, the Mets (46-39) had rocked Samardzija at Wrigley Field, jumping him for nine runs in a 17-1 blowout. This time, they got nothing after the third inning.

Hes handled himself pretty good, catcher Steve Clevenger said. Hes got great stuff. I think he can definitely be a frontrunner in a rotation. Its just about getting innings (and) getting used to it.

The Cubs had nothing to lose in stretching out Samardzija, who dominated in May (2.48 ERA) and seemed out of it in June (10.41 ERA). This quality start followed seven innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves.

We knew there was going to be some growing pains, manager Dale Sveum said. He went through them and keeps understanding how to do it three times through the lineup (and) settle back down after something bad happens and regroup.

This one ended with Anthony Rizzo (2-for-4) stranded on second base after a leadoff double, once Clevenger was called out on a questionable check swing at Bobby Parnells 101 mph fastball.

As the Cubs try to envision their rotation of the future, and the media searches for ways to measure the Rizzo bounce, its become clear this lineup needs more juice. Sveum indicated that interim hitting coach James Rowson, who replaced Rudy Jaramillo last month, will be in the mix to return in 2013.

No question about it, Sveum said. With anything like that, its labeled interim, but hes definitely going to be highly considered.

Theres no doubt that Samardzija is a big part of the plans for next season and beyond. Stay tuned to see if he can handle it.

To bounce back (is) really key for me, Samardzija said. The first season starting, youre going to go through those ups and downs, and its all about how you respond.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: