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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:28AM



In the first inning Monday against the Washington Nationals, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer saw exactly what they wanted from the Cubs.

◆ A leadoff double by Junior Lake.

◆ A sacrifice bunt by Darwin Barney.

◆ A walk from Dioner Navarro.

◆ A three-run homer from Nate Schierholtz.

It was the start of a scoring explosion that led to an 11-1 blowout behind a complete-game gem by Jeff Samardzija (7-11).

Schierholtz (6 RBI) and Donnie Murphy had two home runs apiece, Navarro added a two-run homer, and Lake had a pair of doubles.

“We haven’t done that against a real quality pitcher [Nationals ace Jordan Zimmermann] — that many home runs, balls hit hard,’’ manager Dale Sveum said.

“The hanging breaking ball he threw to Nate [in the first] was the big piece of the puzzle. Getting a three-run lead was huge.’’

Zimmermann (14-8) tied a career high by allowing eight runs in only five innings — falling to a surprising 1-4 with a 5.59 ERA in six career starts against the Cubs.

Against the Nationals, Samard-zija has had good success, going 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 career games (four starts).

But his six-hit, no-walk performance Monday was aided by the offense.

“Regardless of what I did, give credit to the offense,’’ he said. “It puts you in the zone and allows you to relax and make pitches.’’

Schierholtz has been in a calmer zone, especially since the trade-rumor month of July is gone.

“I’d like to be part of the future here, though it’s upsetting to see David [DeJesus] gone,’’ he said of the trade to the Nationals that occurred hours before the game. “He’s a good teammate and one of my favorites.’’

Schierholtz’ career-best six RBI game and career-high 96 hits are putting him on the kind of offensive path Hoyer said the team must find.

“There’s a team offensive element I don’t think we’re good at. We’re last in the league in sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies. We have to get better at all those," Hoyer said.

“We’re going to take a pretty hard look at our offense this offseason, that’s for sure. We have a lot of good, young offensive talent coming, but we can’t just rely on the young guys. We have to be a more efficient offensive team.’’

The Cubs lack of success at Wrigley Field remains a major concern as well.

“It’s frustrating, to be honest,’’ Hoyer said of his team’s home record (25-38). “We have to make this a home-field advantage for us. We’re not going to get where we want to go if we struggle at home.’’

Numbers don’t necessarily explain the home woes.

The Cubs are hitting .247 at home — though only .197 in the last eight games before Monday — compared to .230 on the road. But the pitching at home hasn’t been as good (4.12 ERA) as it has on the road (3.81 ERA).

The Cubs are hitting a mere .220 this season with runners in scoring position — worst in the majors.

But NL Central Division leader Pittsburgh is hitting only .224 in that category — a testament to the Pirates’ pitching strength.

There are obvious problems in the struggles of Rizzo (.230) and Starlin Castro (.244). But the problems come as a team, Hoyer said.

“[Castro] being the guy who might be the brightest light on the team, there’s undue focus on his struggles,’’ Hoyer said. “But the way we look at it is he’s having a down year. There’s no reason in the world to think he can’t get back to playing the way he did as a 21-year-old.’’

Email: tginnetti@suntimes.com

Twitter: @toniginnetti



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