Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jeff Samardzija (.378 WPA)


Before the game today, I sent out the  following tweet.

I just missed the score, but was dead on about the reason for the win. Let’s take a look at the three keys to victory today.

1. Jeff Samardzija Was Flat Out Dominant – Last year, in his first start of the season, Samardzija was on fire. In his last start of the 2012 season, he was on fire. Today, in his first start of the 2013 season, Jeff Samardzija was, once again, on fire. Things looked a little shaky early as the pitch count after two innings was at 40, but an 11 pitch inning helped settle him in and allow him to work eight strong innings. It’s hard to believe that this is the same pitcher who saw so much ire and criticism from Cubs fans as he developed through the system. Today he got ahead of hitters, but didn’t work so deep into a count that it cut his day short. He routinely threw first pitch strikes, which is so key to being able to have flexibility in what pitches and location you select going forward in the at bat. It’s one of the things I look for most in a pitcher.

There was some debate as to if Dale Sveum should have brought him back out to pitch the 8th inning in the first game of the season, with the weather as cold as it was. To this I say….phooey. I’m sick of players being treated like babies. I was proud that Dale made the decision he did to let Jeff come out and pitch the 8th. It was his game to lose and he deserved the chance to pitch. I don’t trust this bullpen, so the less we have to see them, the better.

2. The Stars Did What They Needed to Do – This team has two stars, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Both did what they needed to do to make this day a winning one. For Rizzo, his two run bomb to right-centerfield on the first pitch he saw from AJ Burnett, was all the Cubs needed from an offensive standpoint to win the game. Watching him in that at bat, it was almost as if he knew he was going to hit it. He was so calm and then absolutely unloaded on the pitch. It was one of those that you know is gone as soon as it hits the bat. Castro had a pair of singles in his first two at bats of the day and stole his first base of the season. I went on record during the game on Twitter and I’ll repeat it here. I believe that Castro will lead the NL in hits this season and steal 40+ bases.

What helped most from both Castro and Rizzo, though, was the defense. For Castro, it’s a work in progress, but his development defensively as a shortstop is coming along nicely. He made back to back plays deep in the hole at short to throw guys out and Rizzo made some very nice plays at first base. Overall, this has the makings of a pretty decent defensive infield when Darwin Barney comes back.

3. Dale Sveum Showed Everyone His Balls – It takes some awfully big ones to pull your closer on opening day with a three run lead after just one out, but that’s exactly what Dale did and it saved the game. In the score book, new Cub Kyuji Fujikawa will be awarded the save, but it should go to Sveum. I don’t know if this just means Fujikawa will be the man going forward, it’s doubtful because of how badly Theo and Jed want to showcase Marmol, but it’s clear Dale doesn’t trust him and didn’t want to see Samardzija lose that game. I give him a lot of credit for making that bold move on opening day.

NEWS & NOTES

  • Darwin Barney was placed on the 15-day DL with a laceration on his knee. To Cubs fans dismay, Brent Lillibridge got the start at second and promptly botched the first chance he got. To take the place of Barney on the active roster, the Cubs called up Alberto Gonzalez.
  • I don’t know if anyone else noticed this, but Jim Deshaies sounds a lot like Dan Roan of WGN. Had you not told me Bob Brenly had moved on, I would have thought he was sick and Roan was filling in on color.
  • At what point do we stop seeing people talk about how Samardzija is a former football player for Notre Dame and strictly focus on the fact that he’s one of the bright young arms in the league?
  • PNC Park has one of the best centerfield cameras I’ve seen in the game. If you know me, you know I’m a dork for a straight on look behind the pitcher when judging balls and strikes and PNC has just that. Absolutely perfect.

What’s Up Next?

The Cubs have an off day tomorrow, which is one of the dumbest things related to the MLB schedule over the last few years, so you’re stuck with no baseball tomorrow. Jeremiah will be by Tuesday afternoon with his impressions of the team after one game (sample size alert), and we’ll debut the VFTB Top Prospects list on Wednesday before game two of the series. Edwin Jackson is slated to take the hill against Wandy Rodriguez.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail