Cubs

Giants' Jeff Samardzija struggles against Cubs in Game 2: 'It wasn't my night'

Giants' Jeff Samardzija struggles against Cubs in Game 2: 'It wasn't my night'

Jeff Samardzija’s second start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field left even more to be desired than his first.

Hopeful he’d rebound from a poor effort five weeks earlier, Samardzija lasted only two innings on Saturday night as the Cubs topped the San Francisco Giants 5-2 in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series in front of 42,392 at Wrigley Field. The victory over their former teammate gives the Cubs a commanding 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series that resumes Monday in San Francisco. Samardzija, who made the first postseason start of his career, allowed four earned runs and six hits in his shortest outing of the season.

“It was quick,” Samardzija said. “Fastball felt good. Again, runners on base and having to battle from there too early. You can’t put your team in that much of a hole early in the game, especially against the staff like they have over there.”

“It wasn’t my night. (Dexter) Fowler had another good at-bat to start the game off and that was it.”

Though he appreciated the postseason atmosphere at Wrigley Field, Samardzija thought he avoided getting too caught up in it on Saturday.

But Samardzija never had the chance to settle in as he lasted only 47 pitches. That’s the same amount of pitches he threw in the first inning of his return to Wrigley on Sept. 1, his first outing at the place he called home for 6 1/2 seasons since the Cubs traded him to the Oakland A’s in July 2014. Whereas he earned a no decision the first time, Samardzija was saddled with the loss on Saturday as the Giants struggling offense couldn’t dig out of the 4-0 hole he created.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Samardzija exited in the top of the third when manager Bruce Bochy used Gregor Blanco to pinch-hit for the right-hander, who is in the first season of a five-year, $90-million deal with the Giants.

“You can’t go out and spot a team four in the playoffs and expect to go another (inning),” Samardzija said.

Things appeared to be in Samardzija’s favor for an instant as his first two pitches of the game went for strikes against leadoff man Dexter Fowler. But Samardzija couldn’t put Fowler away as he fouled off several pitches before ripping the ninth of the at-bat -- a 96-mph fastball -- off the right-field fence for a double. Though Samardzija retired Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist dumped a 95-mph fastball into right for an RBI single and a 1-0 Cubs lead.

It didn’t get any easier as Samardzija allowed the first four runners of the second inning to reach base. The stretch included a bases-loaded single by counterpart Kyle Hendricks to give the Cubs an early three-run cushion. Bryant’s one-out single to right made it a 4-0 game in the second inning.

“It's fair to say that he was a little bit off tonight,” Bochy said. “Getting the ball where he wanted to, mixing a couple soft serve hits, too, that hurt first inning. I agree with you. I thought we had him struck out. I haven't seen the pitch. But he made some mistakes, so that's fair to say, and just couldn't limit the damage.

“The ball Hendricks hit, he bloops that in, that scores two. Now it's an uphill climb for us.”

Samardzija did find one silver lining -- he’s prepared to pitch out of the bullpen immediately if needed. The series resumes with Game 3 on Monday night in San Francisco and Game 4, if necessary, on Tuesday.

“Oh I’m ready,” Samardzija said. “Yeah. I didn’t throw enough pitches to cost me so I’ll be ready to go whenever they need me.”

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

cubs_podcast_offense_slid.jpg
USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: