Cubs Stifle The Nats . . . Barely

Converted Chicago reliever Jeff Samardzija dueled Washington lefty Jordan Zimmermann to a near standstill on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley, but the Cubs were able to salvage a 4-3 victory. Samardzija’s outing was epic: he threw into the ninth, stifling Nats’ hitters and providing Chicago with a much needed win at home. In all, he allowed four hits and one home run — and only left the game after torrid Nat Adam LaRoche put his last offering into the right field seats.

Jordan Zimmermann pitched well — if not as spectacularly. He gave up six hits and struck out four in seven complete innings of work. Shortstop Ian Desmond continued his good start, accumulating two hits in four at bats, raising his average to .385 in the young season. Three games in, the pattern now seems set: the Nationals will get good pitching, but their bats need to come alive.

The Nationals almost rallied for the win with two out in the 9th inning, when Starlin Castro’s errant throw to first put Ryan Zimmerman on base. Adam LaRoche followed with his home run, which brought on Carlos Marmol in relief. Marmol, who’d come in for heavy fan criticism following his indifferent relief outings in the first two games against the Nats, walked Jayson Werth before Xavier Nady popped out to Starlin Castro near the third base line.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Nats fans got a good eyeful of what ails the Cubs — suspect starting pitching (Samardzija was stellar, to be sure — but he’s new to the starting rotation) and teeth gnashing relief. Cubs fans are more impatient than ever, booing the otherwise popular Kerry Wood after his second in-game collapse on Saturday and greeting Dale Sveum’s decision to bring Marmol in on Sunday with a near riot . . .

It didn’t help that Marmol dismissed his poor outing on Saturday as “just one game,” and hardly emblamatic of last year’s version of the Pathetics. “Last year is over,” he told reporters. “It’s a new year. You see a lot of new (players) here, huh? That’s what it is. Last year is over. Next question.” And with that, Marmol returned to his locker — cranking up Bob Marley on the clubhouse stereo as he did . . .

What the Cubs have is a solid second baseman (Darwin Barney), a rehab job at third (Ian Stewart, who hit .156 last year for the Rockies), an experiment at first (the absolute definition of “late bloomer”), and an outfield that is a rollercoaster: a defensive adventure in left (Alfonso Soriano), an aging veteran in center (Marlon Byrd), and a short-term fill-in in right (David DeJesus). We’re tempted to say that “these aren’t your daddy’s Cubs,” but then your daddy’s Cubs weren’t exactly your daddy’s Cubs either . . .

Then there’s Starlin Castro, a potential All-World perennial All Star at short who’s worth the price of admission. Chicago can’t stop talking about Castro, albeit in large part because he’s the only thing they have. The Dominican speedster (he stole four bases against the Nats) is that rarest of rare Cubs: he’s a home grown product. He was an All Star last year, at age 21, and is already ripping the cover off the ball in the 2012 campaign: he registered five hits in 13 at bats against the Nats in three games. If he could pitch, the Cubs might go to the playoffs . . . er . . . maybe not . . .

It’s not like Cubs fans haven’t noticed. Bleed Cubbie Blue loves Castro, recoiling from criticizing him for nearly throwing away the game today. BCB has a point: Bryan “Minors Phenom For Life” LaHair probably should have scooped up the errant throw. Then too, as we are quick to note, Castro has such range that he can get to balls that most shortstops can’t touch. He saves runs . . .

The View From The Bleachers points out that Castro has a fourteen game hitting streak, carrying over from last year, when he hit .307 and had more hits than anyone else in the National League. He was an All Star at 2011. In the midst of the hand-wringing over the plight of the Slugs, VFTB points out that the Nationals obtained Jordan Zimmermann with the compensatory draft pick they got when Soriano signed in Chicago . . . we had not remembered that . . . Good God that must be hard to swallow . . .