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.”

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair