WASHINGTON – This can’t be a blood feud yet. The Cubs are building toward 2015 while the Washington Nationals are thinking October. Manager Davey Johnson has already put it out there: World Series or bust.
So as much fun as it is to try to play up this rivalry after the bench-clearing incidents here last September, the Cubs simply aren’t good enough. The Nationals have to think about the Atlanta Braves and their player-development machine and whether or not the Philadelphia Phillies’ aging core can make one more run.
If last year’s four-game sweep showed how far the Cubs still have to go – manager Dale Sveum called it “probably one of the biggest butt-whuppings I’ve ever gotten in my career” – then Friday night’s 7-3 loss at Nationals Park became another slap back to reality.
Jeff Samardzija – the No. 1 starter the Cubs are trying to build their rotation around – gave up all seven runs (five earned) and hasn’t notched a victory since Opening Day.
“Any time you play these teams that are top of the division, you want to come out and play your best ball and measure up against them,” Samardzija said afterward. “I got to make a couple better pitches and get out of those innings no damage and get your offense back in the dugout to score some runs.”
A crowd of 37,191 didn’t get to see the same fireworks, like Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo almost hitting superstar Bryce Harper or former Washington third-base coach/current Houston Astros manager Bo Porter jawing with Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk.
“Obviously, we were a little behind the eight ball the last time we faced these guys,” Sveum said. “Things are a little different with our starting rotation and lineup and all that.”
[WATCH -- Sveum: Very, very strange game]
Building for the future, the Cubs made relative splashes over the winter by signing Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa and $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson, two potential core pieces.
Fujikawa – whose right elbow was said to be “barking” late in spring training – came off the disabled list on Friday and threw a scoreless inning to lower his ERA to 10.13 but will be easing his way back into a setup role.
“(That’s in) the past now, so I just look at what we’ll do from (here),” Fujikawa said through an interpreter. “I let the team down. I would like to contribute more.”
Jackson is 0-5 with a 6.39 ERA and on Saturday will start opposite Washington ace Stephen Strasburg.
“It’s been a slow start to say the least,” Jackson said. “It’s not exactly how I had it envisioned. But it’s a long season. I feel good physically. I’m ready to go.”
The Cubs (13-22) sat through a rare off night for Samardzija (1-5, 3.70 ERA), who gave up an infield single and committed an error on a ball hit back to the pitcher’s mound in the second inning. No. 8 hitter Kurt Suzuki then smashed a two-out double off the video board in right-center field.
Whether it’s making a big pitch or getting the big hit – the Cubs blasted seven doubles but went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position – they’re still miles and miles from The Nationals Way.
“They’re a good team,” Samardzija said. “They’re definitely something we keep our eye on.”