Wannabe Cubs top Marlins behind Lake, Samardzija
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media June 7, 2014 9:50PM
Chicago Cubs' Junior celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Chicago, Saturday, June 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: OTKNH110
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:41AM
In some ways, the Miami Marlins are what the Cubs aspire to be, and not because the Florida upstarts have won two World Series in their brief baseball history while the Cubs are into their second century without a sniff of one.
The Miami team that began Saturday a game out of the National League East lead is an interesting blend of homegrown stars (Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez), developing prospects acquired for discarded stars (Adeiny Hechavarria, Nathan Eovaldi) and wise old hands added to the mix for clubhouse stability (Garrett Jones, Reed Johnson).
A Cubs team like that would be an appealing finished product for a scorched-earth rebuild that chugs along in its third season. Consecutive wins over the Marlins and a season-best fifth win in a row overall suggest that progress is being made, even if the Marlins’ blueprint isn’t being followed to the letter.
“It’s a process,” manager Rick Renteria said Saturday after the Cubs delighted a Wrigley Field crowd of 33,786 with a 5-2 victory.
“Victories are the result of how we’re getting things done. If you play the game right and give yourself a chance, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
In a way, this streak is a glance into the future — Anthony Rizzo (8-for-19, two home runs, five RBI) has been in the middle of it, and most of the power arms in the bullpen have been lights-out.
In other ways, it isn’t. Trade speculation continues to surround Jeff Samardzija, even as he again performed as one of the league’s top pitchers (two runs, five hits and eight strikeouts in seven innings).
Second-year outfielder Junior Lake is seldom mentioned with the top prospects, but he was the hitting hero with two solo homers.
And Emilio Bonifacio is clearly a place-holder for Javy Baez and the other kids who are coming, but he got the party started with a two-run homer off Randy Wolf that gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish.
“It takes contributions from everybody, and we’ve been getting that,” Renteria said.
Lake has wiry-strong power — eight homers in 180 at-bats — and his athletic gifts are undeniable, but he’s a notorious free swinger. He said he’s working on “grooving” his don’t-get-cheated swing in an effort to stay on the ball longer and see it better. He’s strong enough to hit it out without swinging for the street.
Samardzija is just living large. Coming off his worst outing of the season in Milwaukee, he danced around such trouble spots as two first-inning singles, Christian Yelich’s third-inning homer, a leadoff walk in the fourth and a double Stanton absolutely mashed off the left-field wall in the sixth.
“You make a mistake with that guy, and you see what happens,” Samardzija said.
Otherwise, he was quite happy with a darting sinker and a disappearing splitter as he raised his record to 2-5 and lowered his ERA to 2.54.
He credited veteran catcher Eli Whiteside with “calling the game superbly,” and he collected his fifth hit, a single ahead of Bonifacio’s blast to left-center in the third.
“I love how we’re playing,” Samardzija said. “We’ve got an edge, but we’re having fun, and that’s important for a young team. Everybody’s doing their job. Every time I go out there, 33 times a season, I want my team to feel like we have a really good chance to win that day. That’s my job.”