Cubs

Start it up: Samardzija could get his wish in 2012

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Start it up: Samardzija could get his wish in 2012

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Box Score
WATCH: Lopez glad to get his team the win
READ: Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Once Jeff Samardzija committed to baseball, he had a clear idea of who he should be. Even as he struggled to establish himself in the big leagues, he wasnt shy about expressing his desire to be a starter.

Whatever the reasons a glaring need for rotation help, a weak free-agent class, Samardzijas growth as a pitcher the Cubs are gradually coming around to his way of thinking.

Even manager Mike Quade whos consistently said that Samardzijas more suited to being a reliever seems to have softened that stance.

There are plenty of reasons for people to mull over that and think about that possibility, Quade said Saturday. It looks like we need some starting pitching (and) its not rocket science (to) think about guys that have done it before.

Its like anything else around here just stay focused on finishing what youre doing now. (Hes) a big, strong guy. Could that be a possibility? Absolutely.

There are way too many variables to make a definitive statement, because there will be a new general manager with his own viewpoint. That executive will also decide the fates of the manager and his coaching staff.

Next year is the only prism through which you can view these games.

Rodrigo Lopez a 35-year-old who began the season pitching for Atlantas Triple-A affiliate gave up one run across six innings. Bryan LaHair a Pacific Coast League MVP at the age of 28 smashed the go-ahead homer. The Cubs hung on to beat the last-place Houston Astros 2-1 on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Everybody knows Im fighting for a job next year, trying to find a spot somewhere, Lopez said afterward. Its very to important to finish strong and go home with a good feeling and make a case to get a job.

LaHair has forced the issue by hitting .433 (13-for-30) with seven walks in 11 games since his September call-up. He made an error in right field on Saturday as well as a nice running catch at the warning track. The Cubs (67-85) have a surplus of outfielders, but could need a first baseman if they dont re-sign Carlos Pena.

Lopez is now 6-6 with a 4.71 ERA and hit six innings for the second time in almost two months. The Cubs will have to at least explore some in-house options for the 2012 rotation, and much will depend on Andrew Cashners health.

Lets make sure we dont let a potential high-end starter just wind up in the bullpen without taking a shot, Quade said. It made perfect sense (this year). Its a damn shame he got hurt because we all wanted to see that experiment. Maybe it starts up again this winter.

Samardzija has pitched so well out of the bullpen 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 85.1 innings that the Cubs have started to think there could be more there.

Samardzija will be 27 next season and has already made the club options for 2012 and 2013 believed to be worth 6.5 million total seem like almost automatic pick-ups.

At this time last year, reporters were asking the former Notre Dame All-American if the start of football season made him re-think his decision. Now the sense is that Samardzija will be a big part of the 2012 Cubs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki check in from Wrigley Field after the Cubs split the first leg of the Crosstown Classic with the White Sox.

Kelly and Tony discuss the breaking news of top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay's promotion to the big leagues and what his role could be with the Cubs (2:15), and assess where the Cubs stand as they continue their long homestand, including the recent offensive downturn and Yu Darvish taking a step forward (7:30).

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

On a mid-June night that felt more like the first week of April, the Cubs and White Sox combined for 2,029 feet of homers. 

As Leury Garcia hit Jon Lester's first pitch of the game 429 feet Wednesday evening, the reported temperature was in the mid 50s with winds blowing in from left field at 7 mph. That's not as chilly or windy as some of the games the Cubs have played this season, but it's still certainly not ideal hitting conditions at Wrigley Field.

Yet five home runs peppered the left and center field bleachers in the Cubs' 7-3 victory and prompted veteran manager Joe Maddon to bemuse about the way the ball is jumping around baseball today.

"Difficult conditions, but again — wind blowing in at a gale, it seemed, balls flying out easily," Maddon said after the game. "The home run that [James] McCann hit, my god, that just took off. You could actually see it from the field. You watch the flags [blowing in], it gets there, then all of a sudden it took off like a UFO. It stood still, then it took off. The first home run of the game, the first pitch, I mean my god, that ball went far. 

"I don't know what I'm witnessing. The way the ball is coming off the bat right now, it's extraterrestrial. It's like an ET kind of a thing going on out there. It's crazy. This is my fifth year here and I know what I've seen. Whenever the wind is blowing in like that, you don't see that. You don't see that."

Lester worked around those two homers from Garcia and McCann to pick up his 6th win, thanks in large part to the power supplied from his own teammates. Catcher Willson Contreras mashed his 14th and 15th homers of the season (after hitting only 10 all of last year) and David Bote smashed his 9th. 

Overall this season, the Cubs have been on an insane home run barrage, on pace to blow past the franchise mark for longballs in a year. Contreras reaching the 15-homer plateau puts five Cubs in that club this season. No other MLB team has more than three players who have reached that mark.

"I just know the ball's leaving," Maddon said. "I don't know if it's another year of maturity, but it's not just us. It's industry-wide. So it's hard to just say that we're the outlier with all this going on. I still want to see the better approach with runners in scoring position." 

Six weeks ago, Lester brought up the juiced baseball discussion after a start against the Marlins, saying he and other pitchers would like to know if MLB is juicing the baseballs. The league hasn't openly stated anything is different with the baseballs, though home runs are up at an astronomical rate across the board — in both the majors and Triple-A. And we haven't even gotten into the summer weather yet, when the ball really starts flying on warm evenings.

When asked for his thoughts on the baseballs Wednesday night, Lester shrugged it off.

"No comment," he said. "We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about the ball. It is what it is. Every pitcher in the big leagues has to pitch with it. You can comment on it all you want, but it just sounds like an excuse. I don't make excuses. Gotta make better pitches."