Chicago Cubs: Darwin Barney

Barney relishing chance with winner

September, 18, 2014
9/18/14
6:26
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Holding no grudges for being demoted -- and then traded -- former Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney returned to Wrigley Field for the first time with the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, happy for the chance at postseason baseball.

“If I was in their position, I might have done the same thing with me too,” Barney said before Thursday night’s game. “It was weird at first. It’s just a different atmosphere. We expect to win, and if we don’t, we don’t cry about it, we get up the next day and try to win that day. It’s kind of a fun experience.”

Barney fell out of favor with Cubs fans as his batting average continued to dip after hitting a high of .276 in 2011. He hit .208 last season and .230 this year before being traded in July. He went from last place -- and the only organization he’s ever known -- to first place in a matter of days.

“The biggest difference is at this time of year a lot of guys are counting down the days,” Barney said of his former team. “It’s strange not to be counting down the days. I didn’t even know the season was over in 10 days. There’s still baseball ahead.

“It’s a little like a divorce. I’ve only known one thing. The unknown can be a little scary, but that’s baseball. That’s life. It’s going to happen to everybody, and it’s going to happen again.”

Barney knew the deal. The Cubs were rebuilding and weren’t exactly spending money on the big league club. As the team tanked, so did his offensive game. With top-end talent coming up behind him, Barney didn’t survive his own struggles and the Cubs couldn’t afford to keep a gold glove, no-hit player.

“The year after I was drafted I was sitting in the car with (former Cub) Steve Clevenger, sitting there saying ‘we have an opportunity to win a championship in Chicago someday.' That was my goal, and what I wanted for a long time.”

Like all former Cubs, he thought the chance to break the longest championship drought in sports was a special opportunity. It didn’t happen in Chicago, but he’s hoping it does in Los Angeles. He’s appeared in 15 games and hit his first home run with his new team on Wednesday. The Dodgers are stacked with talent and on the verge of returning to the playoffs.

“This team is a really good team,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how good we were when I got here. (Clayton) Kershaw is the best pitcher I’ve ever seen.”

At the end of the day, Barney is actually grateful the Cubs moved him when they did. They gave him a chance to play this season longer than any of his former teammates will.

“I have no hard feelings,” Barney stated. “They made it early enough that I could go to a contender.

Barney settles in after whirlwind move

August, 11, 2014
8/11/14
3:16
PM CT
Saxon By Mark Saxon
ESPNChicago.com
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ATLANTA -- The Dodgers traded a minor-league pitcher named Jonathan Martinez to acquire Darwin Barney from the Chicago Cubs on July 28, three days after the San Francisco Giants put their everyday second baseman, Marco Scutaro, on the 15-day disabled list with a bad back.

This is probably not a coincidence.

The Dodgers were blocking their division rivals, it seems, especially when you consider that, at the time, they didn’t need a backup middle infielder. They were happy with what they had been getting from Miguel Rojas. Second base and shortstop were locked down every day by Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez, respectively.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesDarwin Barney won a Gold Glove with the Cubs in 2012.
It took an injury to Ramirez for Barney even to get a call-up from Triple-A Albuquerque, but he’s here now and happy to be on a West Coast team -- his home is in Beaverton, Ore. -- with World Series aspirations.

Barney was the Cubs’ everyday second baseman from 2011-2013, winning a Gold Glove in 2012. The Cubs designated him for assignment to activate Emilio Bonifacio five days before they traded him to the Dodgers. It was a whirlwind week for Barney. He and his wife have three daughters, the youngest of whom was just two weeks old at the time of the DFA.

They packed their Chicago apartment in a day-and-a-half and moved back home to Oregon. Then he got a call from his agent that he was headed to the Dodgers.

“When I found out I was traded to the Dodgers, a West Coast team in first place, I couldn’t have been happier,” Barney said. “From there, there were a lot of unknowns. They’re pretty steady in the middle infield and they have a good thing going, so they don’t necessarily need me to play my position of second base that I’ve ended up being pretty good at. I look at it as an opportunity to play for a winning organization.”

Barney said he has no ill will toward the Cubs’ front office. He said the Cubs told him they were in the process of bringing younger players to the majors and that they didn’t want to have him spend most of the remaining games on the bench. They told him they thought it was in his best interests to be made available to other teams looking for a final piece or two for a pennant drive.

He and Starlin Castro were viewed within the clubhouse as the veteran Cubs, Barney said. Now, he said he’s enjoying being one of the younger players in the clubhouse and being around an organization with championship aspirations.

“We’re not working to get better here. We’re working to win every single game,” Barney said. “Over there, it seemed like it was more about if something went wrong, ‘OK, now how do we fix it.’ When you go out to win a ballgame every single day, it’s kind of fun.”

The Dodgers will use Barney as a backup to Gordon at second and Rojas at shortstop. After playing just three games at third base at Triple-A, he told manager Don Mattingly he wasn’t entirely confident playing third yet.

“I feel like I’m a little OCD on defense,” Barney said. “I’d become a machine at second base in terms of automatically reacting and making plays instead of having to think. At third, the wheels started turning a little bit and I felt a little rushed.”

Hoyer: 'It's time for Mendy to play'

July, 22, 2014
7/22/14
8:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer came up with a twitter hashtag without even knowing it Tuesday as the organization turned the page on veteran Darwin Barney while further solidifying newcomer Arismendy Alcantara's status.

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
AP Photo/Al BehrmanArismendy Alcantara is off to an impressive start with the Cubs.
"It's time for Mendy to play," Hoyer said after designating Barney for assignment. "He'll play second, he'll play center, but I think he'll be in the lineup every day."

"#MendyTime" may or may not catch on, but Alcantara will get every chance to be a regular as the Cubs head toward 2015. On Tuesday, manager Rick Renteria had him batting second and playing center field behind fellow switch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio, who was at second base. The two can flip-flop positions any time, though Alcantara is going to get more looks in the outfield.

"One of the things we feel strongly about is when we bring these guys up, they're going to play," Hoyer said. "We're not going to bring up these guys who are our future to share time or sit on the bench. Because he's a switch-hitter he can play every day."

That's the benefit of the doubt Alcantara will get since the Cubs don't have to worry about righty-lefty matchups as they did early in the season with Junior Lake and Mike Olt. Hoyer lamented the fact that there aren't that many left-handed pitchers in the division forcing those two to the bench. He didn't disagree that with the quantity -- and quality -- of infielders getting closer to being major-league ready, a more permanent move of Alcantara to the outfield exists.

"We don't expect him to come up here and set the world on fire," Hoyer said. "He'll have some great series like he did and some struggles like he did in Arizona. That's part of the process and will be with every one of the young guys we bring up."

Alcantara is hitting .286 after a 1-for-12 weekend in Phoenix, but he has six extra-base hits in eight games, showing the energy and pop he has displayed throughout his minor league career. Renteria was excited for Bonifacio's return from the disabled list, as the veteran's game is similar to Alcantara, minus the home run and gap power.

"In a sense he has a partner, so to speak, that's done what he's doing, so it's not bad that they're here at the same time," Renteria said. "Hopefully it's something that's a positive."

It might not be long before Alcantara surpasses Bonifacio as his talent seems to have a larger effect on the game.

As for Barney, he might go down in history as the first player to essentially lose his job after going on paternity leave. A two-day absence earlier this month opened the door ever so slightly for Alcantara, and he has kicked it in. The roster turnover for the Cubs continues as he will officially get his chance now.

"With Mendy, it's time to see that," Hoyer said.

#MendyTime.

Cubs welcome back Barney, recall Rosscup

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
3:55
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs made a pair of roster moves Friday, reinstating Darwin Barney from the paternity list and calling up left-hander Zac Rosscup from Triple-A Iowa.

To make room for both players, right-handed pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Blake Parker were optioned back to Iowa.

Barney was not in the lineup Friday as Arismendy Alcantara started at second base. The 28-year-old Barney is batting .224 with a .261 on-base percentage in 70 games this season.

Rosscup is beginning his fourth stint with the Cubs this season. He has made a total of four appearances for the Cubs this year and has not been scored upon in four innings. He is 2-0 at Iowa with a 2.61 ERA in 20 appearances.

Hendricks got word of his demotion one day after making his major league debut at Cincinnati. He gave up four runs in six innings of the Cubs’ eventual 6-4 victory in 12 innings.

Parker, who had a 9.53 ERA in five appearances with the Cubs, has 18 saves and has a 1.44 ERA at Iowa this year, earning Pacific Coast League All-Star honors.

Rapid Reaction: Reds 4, Cubs 1

July, 9, 2014
7/09/14
9:17
PM CT
By Tom Ramstetter | Special to ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. It was the fifth straight win for the Reds and the sixth straight loss for the Cubs.

Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: The Reds finally got to Cubs starter Dallas Beeler for three runs with two outs in the bottom of the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. Billy Hamilton had the go-ahead hit for the Reds with a two-out triple past center fielder Justin Ruggiano to drive in Zack Cozart from second base. Cozart had lofted a single into right-center, just out of the reach of second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, and moved to second on a sacrifice by pitcher Alfredo Simon.

Skip Schumaker followed Hamilton’s triple with a walk and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce each singled in a run to cap a three-run inning. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when third baseman Ramon Santiago belted a two-out double into the gap in right-center to plate first baseman Brayan Pena from first base. Santiago was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Pena drew a two-out walk ahead of Santiago. Anthony Rizzo tied it in the third with his 20th home run of the season, a towering shot down the line in right on a 2-0 pitch. But Chicago never got another runner as far as second base.

What it means: The Cubs have followed a four-game winning streak with what is now a six-game losing streak and four games to go before the All-Star break.

Beeler’s night: Beeler, a rookie right-hander, held the Reds to two hits and a run through four innings, but a three-run fifth inning ended his second major league start. Beeler allowed four earned runs, six hits and walked four in five innings and did not record a strikeout.

Beeler (0-2) made his major league debut June 28 and allowed four hits and an earned run in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. He gave up four hits and struck out six.

Alcantara’s debut: Hot prospect Alcantara was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league game. The 22-year-old infielder/outfielder, who hits from both sides of the plate, started at second base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Wednesday. The Cubs promoted him to take the spot of veteran Darwin Barney, who is on the paternity list.
Alcantara has hit .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles and 62 runs in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He boasts an .890 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts at Triple-A.

Renteria tossed: Cubs manager Rick Renteria was thrown out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning by third-base umpire Andy Fletcher for arguing a foul-ball call. It was Renteria’s fifth ejection of the season.

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco’s tapper down the third-base line with two outs, two on and three runs already in was just foul. Third baseman Luis Valbuena fielded the grounder and tagged third, but Fletcher called the ball foul.

The play was not reviewable.

Mesoraco grounded out to Valbuena moments later to end the inning.

Stat of the night: Simon (12-3) retired 13 straight Cubs after Rizzo’s game-tying home run in the third. Simon struck out eight in 6.2 innings, allowing four hits, two walks and one earned run.

What’s next: The Cubs wrap up the five-game series in Cincinnati at 11:35 a.m. CT, hoping to avoid a sweep. Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut for Chicago, and Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.15 ERA) will take the hill for the Reds.

The Cubs return home for a three-game series leading into the All-Star break beginning Friday.

Cubs bid farewell to Samardzija, Hammel

July, 5, 2014
7/05/14
4:13
PM CT
By Benjamin Standig
ESPNChicago.com
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Professionally speaking, Jeff Samardzija grew up with the Cubs. Chicago selected the 6-foot-5 pitcher in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur draft. Samardzija made his big league debut in 2008, made 83 starts over the next six seasons and made plenty of friends in the locker room along the way.

Those days are done, with the Cubs anyway. After yearlong rumors, Chicago sent Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's late Friday night in a trade that looked more toward the future than the present.

Starlin Castro
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro isn't concerned that the Cubs traded for top prospect Addison Russell, who also plays shortstop.
Samardzija's teammates focused on the past when asked for reaction before Saturday's road game against the Washington Nationals.

"We shared a beer and a cigarette and sent him on his way," reliever James Russell said. "It's not fun. We have been through this before. It's just tough to see your boys leave."

Second baseman Darwin Barney had a more difficult time finding the proper sendoff.

“It’s always hard to say goodbye to a dude. What do you do? Do you slap hands? Do you hug? It’s tough," Barney joked. "We’ve known each other for so long and we have built a relationship. He throws ground balls and I catch ground balls.”

Samardzija (2-7, 2.83) was scheduled to pitch Saturday. He is also scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season. The two sides could not come to terms on a long-term extension.

(Read full post)

Barney, Olt break out in sweep of Red Sox

July, 3, 2014
7/03/14
12:35
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- It all came together in one evening for the Chicago Cubs on offense, especially for a couple of struggling players.

Darwin Barney nearly hit for the cycle and Mike Olt had a rare two-hit game as the Cubs swept the defending world champs with a 16-9 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsDarwin Barney exploded for four hits Wednesday in Boston and came up a home run shy of completing the cycle.
“It’s always an amazing atmosphere here,” Barney said afterward. “It’s fun to take the series the way we did.”

Barney went 4-for-4 with a triple, single and double in his first three at-bats. He came up in the top of the ninth facing Junichi Tazawa needing a home run for the cycle, but instead singled to drive in a run.

“Everyone on our side kind of knew what was going on,” Barney said. “I was happy to get a knock there. It’s a tough guy to [take out] when you’re thinking you want to elevate something.”

For Barney and Olt, playing time and offensive success have been sparse. Going 2-for-5 without a strikeout is a victory these days for Cubs third baseman Olt.

“When I wasn’t playing, I was working hard,” he said. “We started to figure things out and get back to basics again.”

It’s hard to say whether a night when he homered over the Green Monster will jump-start a season during which he has already had several starts and stops.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsIn his first start since May 12, Mike Olt enjoyed a 2-for-5 outing, with a dinger over the Green Monster and nary a strikeout.
But the same can be said of the Cubs, who pulled off the unthinkable sweep.

“They feel good about it,” Chicago manager Rick Renteria said.

There haven’t been many happy days for the Cubs this season, but these three in Boston is a highlight for the team and individuals.

Barney, in particular, is getting more playing time and feeling better about his game.

“It’s nice to get back into that routine,” he said. “You know what you’re up against. That’s baseball. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. Lately I’ve been feeling pretty good.”

And so are the Cubs.

Barney said he’ll savor the night, as did Olt. Great outings may be difficult to come by, but they’re easy to remember.

Barney wants to stay a Cub

June, 27, 2014
6/27/14
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney was supposed to get the chance that fellow infield teammates Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are getting.

A chance for a rebound season.

Right or wrong, former manager Dale Sveum took a lot of the blame for the regression of some of the young Cubs, most notably Rizzo and Castro. But people forget that Barney also regressed under Sveum's watch. He hit .276 in 2011 -- the year before Sveum was named manager. The next two seasons, under Sveum, Barney saw his batting average plummet to .254 in 2012 and .208 in 2013.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDarwin Barney is trying to keep a positive attitude and is willing to embrace any role the Cubs want him to play.
He's hitting only .204 this year after doubling and scoring the winning run in the seventh inning of the Cubs' 5-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night. But he's no longer the starter, and until Emilio Bonifacio got hurt his at-bats came sparingly. As much as you might think his numbers are proof he can't hit in the majors, he never has had enough consistent at-bats this year to prove himself. Then again he hasn't taken advantage of the ones he has had.

"I'm trying to focus on the team and what we have going right now," Barney said before Thursday's game. "It's just part of the game. When my name is in the lineup I try to do the best I can to help them win. I try not to think any more than that."

Barney was the victim of a hot start by Bonfiacio as it was just days before the end of spring training that manager Rick Renteria still declared Barney his starter. That didn't last long as Bonifacio tore up National League pitching in the first few weeks of the season. Barney was relegated to bench duty.

"He hasn't shown any frustration," Renteria said. "He's continued to go out there and work extremely hard and have really good at-bats. In terms of attitude, he's had a great attitude."

What does this all mean for Barney's future? It's hard to tell considering his trade value can't be very high. Teams haven't see him hit consistently in several years and his defense hasn't been as spectacular as it had been in the past. That's probably because he's not playing every day. With infield prospects getting closer and closer to making it to the major leagues, Barney's future in Chicago seems to be up in the air.

"You try not to think about it," Barney said. "We all hope that our future is here. I've said it for the past three years. We want to be here when things turn around. I think we can see that things slowly are."

In the meantime, Barney is going to "embrace" whatever role the Cubs have for him. That includes coming off the bench. But even his most ardent critics can admit he didn't get the chance that Rizzo and Castro got. Maybe he didn't deserve it. But the facts are the facts: He hit better before Sveum, just as Castro did. Only one got to prove he could do it again. Still, Barney wants to be in Chicago -- and win -- once the dust settles.

"That's my goal," he said. "Hopefully come August 1, it will still be my goal."

The most he'll admit -- like any player -- is it's hard to maintain any consistency without serious playing time. He's had more since Bonifacio went down because of an oblique strain, but the writing was on the wall at the end of the spring.

"It's not easy," Barney said of limited play. "If this is a winning team and that's my role I have to embrace it."

As for trade possibilities, Barney won't follow the rumors unless he's told about them by reporters. Plus, he won't believe he's being moved until it happens.

"Most of the deals that you hear about don't happen anyway," he said.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7 Pirates 3

June, 10, 2014
6/10/14
9:42
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH –- The Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run home run in the first inning as the Cubs jumped on starter Francisco Liriano. It was Rizzo’s 13th of the season. Andrew McCutchen responded with a two-run shot of his own in the third inning to tie the game. The Cubs retook the lead on a Darwin Barney RBI double that scored Rizzo in the fourth, but the Pirates tied it again on Josh Harrison’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning. The Cubs finally pulled away as Luis Valbuena hit a pinch-hit two-run double in the sixth followed by RBI hits by Rizzo and Starlin Castro in the seventh. Travis Wood picked up the win, giving up nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Rizzo was 3-for-4 with three RBIs.

What it means: Coming into the night Rizzo was just 2-for-17 against Liriano, but he crushed a ball out to right as he’s picked up the pace lately. His two doubles were no cheapies either, as he went to right-center and left-center. With a .284 batting average and 13 home runs, Rizzo should enter into All-Star consideration. He continues to hit left-handed pitching better than ever as evidenced by his work against Liriano.

On the other end of the spectrum is Mike Olt. He struck out looking twice before being pinch hit for by Valbuena, who promptly doubled and added another hit later in the game. Olt looks lost at the plate.

Liriano leaves early: Liriano left the game after warming up in the fourth inning. The Pirates later announced he had “discomfort on his left side.”

Polanco debuts: Pirates phenom Gregory Polanco made his much anticipated major league debut, going 1-for-5 as fans gave him a standing ovation before his first at-bat. He singled to left in his second at-bat, earning his first career base hit. He misplayed a ball in right that was ruled a double for Rizzo.

What’s next: Jason Hammel (6-3, 2.53) takes on Brandon Cumpton (1-2, 6.51) in Game 3 of the series Wednesday night.

Jeff Samardzija wins one, finally

May, 26, 2014
5/26/14
8:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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SAN FRANCISCO – Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija wasn’t quite sure when his last beer shower was, but he figures it has been a long time.

“When I got my first save or first win,” Samardzija said Monday after earning victory No. 1 on Monday in an 8-4 triumph over the San Francisco Giants. “[Jim] Edmonds made a diving play in left-center and I got my first save, and I probably got trounced after that. That’s when we had some older guys so they were probably a lot meaner than they are now. I’d rather just drink the beer than pour it on me.”

Yes, Monday’s Memorial Day win had a different feel than the other 18 the Cubs have had this season. None until now had featured a “W” next to Samardzija’s name, despite the Cubs ace mowing down hitters to the tune of a 1.46 ERA through his first 10 starts. His plight became the symbol of the Cubs' current futility. No wins, four losses, six no-decisions and a team record of 1-9 in games he’s started. That’s very Cub-like, isn’t it?

[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsJeff Samardzija gave up a whopping three runs, but a rare offensive outburst delivered his first win.
“It was nice to get him a win before June,” second baseman Darwin Barney said sarcastically. “I think it was on his mind a little more than he put out by how happy he was today.”

Samardzija never showed the frustration, always reverting to the notion the game will get even with you and things would turn his way. They finally did Monday when the offense, defense and bullpen didn’t let him down for once.

“I usually get mad at other things than the results,” Samardzija said. “I get more mad at myself when I have bad pitch selection and things like that. If you start letting that stuff get to you it’s probably going to snowball on you.”

Despite downplaying it as much as possible, his teammates refused to believe it was just another win -- Samardzija's first since Aug. 24, 2013.

“It was big,” outfielder Nate Schierholtz said. “He deserves to have a lot of wins right now. It was nice to get that one for him. ... He goes out there and battles every start. It means a lot to everyone.”

Schierholtz hit his first home run of the season, and for one day players like himself and Samardzija, who could be on the move later in the season, relished in victory over the best team in the National League. Beer showers don’t happen for many 19-30 outfits.

“We snuck it in on him,” Barney said. “We didn’t wait until he got in the shower because that’s too [obvious].”

Samardzija (1-4) isn’t more likely to be a Cub come August because he won one game. He continues to audition for other teams -- the Giants might be a good fit -- and as good as he has been so far, his game might get even better. His slider was the best he has had this season, with six of his 10 strikeouts coming via that pitch. That’s a career high. And now his full arsenal of pitches is in high gear.

“[Monday] was probably the first day I felt like I had all four of them,” Samardzija said of his fastball, slider, splitter and changeup.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Samardzija had a season-high 20 swings and misses Monday, including 12 on sliders. His movement was so good that Giants hitters swung at 25 pitches outside the strike zone, just one off a career high. And again it was his slider that fooled them the most.

“Once I got them seeing that fastball and getting jumpy on it I was able to get some outs and some strikeouts with that slider,” Samardzija said. “It’s part of pitching, you kind of see what you have that day and go off of it.”

Pablo Sandoval got to him with a home run, but those 10 strikeouts to go along with zero walks helped thwart a Giants’ attack. Before the game, manager Rick Renteria mentioned Samardzija as a possible All-Star pitcher. At this rate, he should be a shoo-in to make the team, if not the game’s starter.

“I’m not a big accolades guy,” Samardzija said. “I’m not a big goals guy outside of 200-plus innings. I don’t set many goals. Your game speaks for yourself.”

Samardzija’s game has been speaking volumes since the beginning of the season. And now he finally has a win to show for it. Plus, he drove in a key run with a double in the fifth inning.

“People try to downplay the whole record thing, but as a starting pitcher I think it’s important,” he said. “This game will tell you a lot about yourself. You just have to keep doing your work. Every start is a new day. The guys played amazingly for me today.”

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 8, Giants 4

May, 26, 2014
5/26/14
6:34
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 8-4 on Monday afternoon to take Game 1 of their three-game series. Here’s a quick look:

How it happened: Run support wasn’t an issue as the Cubs erased a 3-1 deficit to finally give Jeff Samardzija his first win of the season. Darwin Barney made it 3-2 in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly. Afterward, two-out hits by Samardzija and Emilio Bonifacio plated the tying and lead runs before the Cubs added four more scores in the sixth and seventh innings. First, they got RBI singles from Nate Schierholtz and Barney to push the lead to 6-3 in the sixth. Then Anthony Rizzo added an RBI double in the seventh as the Giants committed two errors helping two runs cross the plate. Earlier, Schierholtz hit his first home run of the season to put the Cubs on the board in the third inning after Pablo Sandoval gave the Giants a first-inning lead with an RBI single. Samardzija committed an error on the leadoff man Angel Pagan allowing that unearned run. Sandoval homered in the fourth inning to put the Giants in front again, but the lead didn’t last long. The Giants got one back in the seventh on a Brandon Crawford RBI.

What it means: The streak is over. Samardzija won a game for the first time since Aug. 24. Sandoval got to him a couple of times, but other than that he was very good. Samardzija gave up just six hits and no walks while striking out a season high 10 batters in seven-plus innings. His ERA rose to just 1.68. And the Cubs finally scored for him.

Schierholtz has been knocking on the door of coming out of a season long slump, and he finally did it against his old team. Forget season numbers; if he heats up at the right time, he becomes trade bait as there are always teams in need of left-handed hitting, especially if the home runs start to come. Rizzo struck out twice against Giants righty starter Yusmeiro Petit but had two hits off the lefty reliever David Huff.

Now that’s a slider: Samardzija struck out 10 batters in a game for the sixth time in his career while six of the strikeouts ended on his slider. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the most he’s struck out with his slider in any one game of his career.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series takes place on Tuesday night at 9:15 CT. Jake Arrieta (1-0, 2.33) takes on Tim Hudson (4-2, 2.13)

Samardzija and 1.46 ERA let down, again

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
9:17
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- It’s probably getting comical for anyone not associated with the Chicago Cubs or pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

Once again, his teammates couldn’t complete the deal after another great outing from their starter. And so the Cubs fell 4-2 in 13 innings to the New York Yankees on Wednesday after blowing a 2-0 ninth inning lead.

The man with the lowest ERA in baseball is still winless after 10 starts.

[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports"With modern technology, every game gets seen and watched," Jeff Samardzija said of his winless record in 10 starts and the league's lowest ERA. "I don't think it's any secret what I'm doing."
Going back to last year, Samardzija has now gone 13 consecutive starts allowing two or fewer earned runs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the second-longest streak since the league started compiling earned runs in 1913.

“I feel terrible,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said after the game. “The guy went seven scoreless again. He’s the best pitcher in the league right now. American League, National League, Japanese League. It doesn’t matter. I think he’s proven that.”

The usually sure-handed Barney contributed to the loss with a rare throwing error that allowed the tying run to score in the ninth. That came before reliever Jose Veras imploded again, throwing a wild pitch to allow the winning run to cross the plate in the 13th.

Despite Samardzija’s 1.46 ERA, the Cubs are 1-9 in games he has started. Samardzija gave up four hits in seven innings on Wednesday without giving up a run.

“[I feel] real bad,” Veras said. “He’s throwing unbelievable games, and we can’t hold it for him. The bullpen feels real bad.”

So once again the defense, bullpen and an offense that couldn’t add on runs let Samardzija down.

But his head remains high, maybe because he knows the baseball world sees what he’s doing and simply could care less about his 0-4 record. It really only means he’s pitching for a bad team.

“With modern technology, every game gets seen and watched,” Samardzija said. “I don’t think it’s any secret what I’m doing.”

Is that a nod toward the public notion that Samardzija is on the trade block this season? Maybe that’s why he isn’t showing frustration after so many outstanding starts where his team has let him down. And maybe he knows he’s auditioning not for the job he has but for the one he wants.

“I feel great,” Samardzija said. “It’s still early. I look forward to being strong in the second half and improve on my second-half numbers from last year, which weren’t too solid. This is a good way to do it. I know come the second half of the season I’m going to feel really good.”

That must be music to the ears of contending teams that are in need of pitching. The second half is where the pennant race heats up, and it hasn’t been the strongest time of the year for the Cubs ace. His ERA was over 5.00 in the final three months last year.

For as much as he’s speaking to reporters after he pitches, perhaps he’s also talking to potential suitors for his services.

For now, Samardzija is willing to back up his teammates, including a bullpen that has blown three saves for him and three for the rest of the pitching staff. He’s also willing to forgive a defense that’s given up six unearned runs in his 10 starts and an offense that’s averaged two runs of support per contest. How does he explain it all?

“Chain of separate events I’d say,” Samardzija said with a smirk. “It’s just the way it’s gone.”

Rapid Reaction: Yankees 4, Cubs 2 (13)

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
6:13
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees in 13 innings on Wednesday afternoon:

How it happened: Jose Veras gave up two runs in the 13th inning as the winning run crossed after a wild pitch. Jeff Samardzija's winless streak continues after Hector Rondon squandered a 2-0 lead in the ninth following seven shutout innings by the Cubs ace. Samardzija, who surrendered just four hits and lowered his ERA to an MLB-best 1.46, has not won since Aug. 24, 2013, a span of 17 starts. Mike Olt put the Cubs on the board with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. The Cubs added to their 1-0 lead when Emilio Bonifacio put down a bunt to score Ryan Kalish from third after Kalish tripled pinch-hitting for Samardzija in the seventh. But the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs off Rondon in the ninth inning before Ichiro Suzuki grounded into a fielder's choice, but Darwin Barney's throw to first was wide, allowing the tying run to score from second base.

What it means: Heading into the ninth inning the Cubs had been playing their best baseball of the season, winning three straight games. They got situational hitting they weren't getting over the first six weeks, with Olt being the best example. He has driven in four runs over the past two days with a base hit, two sacrifice flies and a bases-loaded walk.

Samardzija: If it was closer to mid-July, Samardzija would be in line for a starting nod in the All-Star Game -- that's how good he has been. His ERA is easily the best in baseball, and he hasn't slowed down, going seven innings or more in seven of 10 starts.

What's next: The Cubs hit the road for 10 games starting with a four-game series in San Diego. Righty Jake Arrieta (0-0, 2.70) takes on Eric Stults (2-4, 4.50) in Game 1 at 9:10 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Beat goes on for winless Samardzija

May, 16, 2014
5/16/14
5:37
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria insisted his team hadn’t played that poorly behind starter Jeff Samardzija despite his 0-3 record and 1.45 ERA coming into the day.

Renteria can’t make that claim anymore after the Cubs lost 4-3 and made a season-high three errors. Catcher Welington Castillo added a costly passed ball as Samardzija dropped to 0-4 while his ERA rose to just 1.62.

[+] EnlargeSamardzija
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThis time it was the defense behind Jeff Samardzija that let him down.
“It’s too bad,” infielder Darwin Barney said afterward. “He comes out every fifth day and pitches and competes. We want nothing more than to give him some run support.”

Barney helped do that with a two-run home run in the second inning to cut a 4-0 Brewers lead in half. The Cubs added a run in the third -- nearly doubling their usual run support for Samardzija -- but this time it wasn’t the bullpen that hurt him, it was their defense. Two of Samardzija's four runs were unearned.

“I’m not happy about it,” Samardzija said of being winless. “It’s not like it goes unnoticed. I want to win. Being a starting pitcher you have a big say in how a game turns out. If my record isn’t what I want it to be, I need to do a better job.”

Anybody who has watched him pitch this season knows Samardzija is being way too harsh on himself. No other pitcher in over 100 years has started the season the way he has without earning at least one victory. Samardzija wasn’t as dominant as he normally is, but he kept the Cubs in the game – despite a high pitch count partly due to those errors extending innings.

“You watch how a game starts, you kind of judge how you’re going to have to approach it,” Samardzija said. “You throw a lot of pitches early, you know you have to come back and try and save those pitches later in the game.”

In other words, when the errors started piling up, Samardzija knew he would have to be that much sharper. He shut down the Brewers in his final three innings, but, unfortunately, the Cubs went down 16 times in a row after getting within one run.

“He didn’t have his best stuff today, but he grinded out through five,” Renteria said. “He kept battling though.”

And the beat goes on for the Cubs ace. Now 0-4 with a miniscule ERA, he’s still looking in the mirror. He’ll go back to the video and try to get better for the next time out. It’s all he can control.

“There’s some things we need to improve on,” Samardzija stated.

For him, there’s not many.

Olt delivering on power potential

April, 19, 2014
4/19/14
6:47
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Mike Olt hit his first home run this year off somebody not named Wandy Rodriguez, setting the tone on a cool Wrigley Field afternoon that did not seem inviting for long balls.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Olt homered in the second inning against the Reds, setting the tone for the Cubs' offense on Saturday.
Darwin Barney and Welington Castillo followed with their own home runs for the Cubs, who entered tied with the San Diego Padres for last in the National League with 10 long balls.

The Cubs parlayed all the power into an 8-4 victory, matching an April 6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies for most runs scored in a game this year.

“It’s definitely what we need,” Olt said of an 11-hit afternoon that helped to end a five-game losing streak. “It only takes one game or one at-bat to really get a team going, so hopefully we come in tomorrow and stay focused, and I guess start back where we left off.”

The right-handed hitting Olt showed his power capabilities this spring with five home runs in 19 Cactus League games, a performance that helped him to earn a roster spot. Maintaining that type of production, though, was going to be tough while sharing time at third with the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena.

Olt has started in just half of the team’s 16 games, and the stop-start playing time has shown up in a .212 batting average and .257 on-base percentage. But he has managed to deliver on power potential with three home runs in 33 at-bats. Everybody else with multiple home runs on the Cubs' roster has at least 46 at-bats.

A key component in last year’s trade that sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers, Olt continues to show that the deal has a chance to pay huge dividends. After all, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm came to the Cubs, as well.

For Olt, his season could depend on finding consistency in an inconsistent world that has him starting one day and pinch hitting the next.

He followed his productive spring with a home run off Rodriguez, the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander, in the third game of the season. When the Pirates came to Chicago a week later, Olt did the same thing to Rodriguez. His home run Saturday came against Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani.

Right-handers have been more of an issue. When the Reds switched to right-hander Logan Ondrusek in the sixth inning, Olt struck out. It was his seventh strikeout against right-handers this season, compared with three against lefties.

Until results such as those change, the platoon will continue, regardless of how Valbuena performs. Shoring up defensive miscues will be key, as well. He booted a ground ball that allowed a run to score in the seventh inning and practically compounded the issue when he then threw wildly to first base. He was spared another error when first baseman Anthony Rizzo quickly tracked down the ball.

It cut the Cubs’ lead to just two runs at the time, but the offense rebounded with two more in the bottom of the seventh.

“I definitely shouldn't have thrown it, but that happens,” Olt said.

Miscues like that figured to be remedied with more experience at the big league level. Between his 16 games with the Rangers in 2012, his full year at Triple-A last year and his 14 games with the Cubs this season, he is starting to make more sense of things.

“What I have taken from the last couple of years is learning how to evaluate how other hitters are being approached by the pitcher and pick up certain tendencies,” he said. “I’m paying attention a lot more to the game and understanding it so it will definitely carry over.”

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167