Jeff Samardzija proved nearly unhittable earlier this week while throwing his first career shutout. The surging Cubs may not need him to be as sharp given their recent efforts at the plate.
Enjoying their longest winning streak in nearly two years, the Cubs will try to hand the Diamondbacks a 10th loss in 11 games at Wrigley Field on Saturday night.
Samardzija (3-6, 2.85 ERA) was at his best Monday, throwing a two-hitter while striking out eight and walking two in a 7-0 road win over the White Sox.
“Sometimes he reverts back to probably thinking a little too much instead of just knowing what he is. He is a big-time power guy,” manager Dale Sveum said.
“You guys saw his split-finger pitch tonight, it is pretty much a non-hittable pitch when he is committed to it and throwing it like that. Not that he’s not a pitcher, but sometimes he wants to be this pitcher that is pitching like a Greg Maddux. He is not that kind of a pitcher.”
The right-hander ranks second in the NL with 9.91 strikeouts per nine innings and is among the league leaders with a .196 opponents’ batting average. He’s thrown at least seven innings in each of his last three starts, going 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA and allowing 10 hits in 24 innings.
“I am going out with the mindset to pitch deep in every game,” he said. “If you want to be one of the guys the team turns to in a big situation, that’s the number one thing, pitch deep into games and give your offense a chance to win the game.”
After enduring a season-worst six-game skid, the Cubs (23-30) have batted .395 with runners in scoring position, hit 11 homers and averaged 7.2 runs while posting five consecutive victories – their longest run since taking seven straight July 31-Aug. 6, 2011.
Chicago won 7-2 in the opener of this three-game set Friday, as Scott Hairston hit a grand slam and Alfonso Soriano added a two-run shot. Cody Ransom also went deep.
“We’ve been really confident lately and catching our breaks,” Hairston told the Cubs’ official website. “A lot of balls we’re hitting hard are finding holes now; before, they weren’t.”
The Cubs have hit .294 with 18 homers in taking nine of 10 from the Diamondbacks (30-24) at Wrigley, including four straight by a 22-5 margin.
Soriano is batting .400 with 17 homers and 37 RBIs during his last 29 games against Arizona, and he’s 6 for 11 with three home runs off Saturday’s scheduled starter Ian Kennedy (2-3, 4.70). The right-hander was scratched from Monday’s outing due to a laceration on his right index finger.
“The only thing that really bothered me was spinning on my knuckle curve,” he told MLB’s official website. “It would just split open. I haven’t been able to throw any curveballs, but my fastball has been good in the bullpens.”
Kennedy is 1-0 with a 3.50 ERA over his last three starts. He’s gone 2-2 in six matchups against the Cubs while compiling a 6.94 ERA, his second-highest mark against any NL opponent.
Besides Soriano, Kennedy will need to be wary of Starlin Castro, who’s 6 for 16 with two doubles and a triple in their matchups. Castro, though, is hitting .189 with two extra-base hits over his last 12 games.
In his only start against the D-backs, Samardzija was tagged for five runs in as many innings during a 6-1 road loss last June 22.