Chicago Cubs

Samardzija, Teo: The spotlight comes with the territory

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Samardzija, Teo: The spotlight comes with the territory

Jeff Samardzija has lived through it already so he understands this as well as anyone: Dont believe the hype.

The media has gone from wondering if Samardzija would even make the 2011 team or if he had any minor-league options left to projecting that he will be a No. 1 starter for years to come.

Even if that All-American football background meant Samardzija needed extra time to learn about the art of pitching, it also undoubtedly helped prepare him for being a Cub.

Though talks about a possible long-term extension didnt gain much momentum, Samardzija is now viewed as a foundation piece for Theo Epsteins rebuilding project. The Cubs wrapped up their arbitration cases on Friday with Samardzija (2.64 million, his 2012 salary, plus 125,000 in performance bonuses) and reliever James Russell (1.075 million).

Samardzija hung out in South Florida with his buddies for the BCS title match, though he didnt actually go to the game and watch Alabama destroy Notre Dame. And, no, he didnt see Manti Teos girlfriend either. But he understands how the game is played.

Its Notre Dame, Samardzija said. You understand when you go to Notre Dame, you take on a different role of being under the spotlight. If things go great, its a great place to be at. You get tons of accolades for it. You get all the front-page articles. You get Sports Illustrated. You get ESPN.

But then if something doesnt go well, you pay for that, too. You need to understand if you go to that school, you have to be a responsible, mature adult.

Thats about as far as Samardzija whos probably the best interview in the Cubs clubhouse wanted to go with Teo, the Notre Dame linebacker drawn into a bizarre social media hoax.

You cant really have a comment on it, Samardzija said. Its not really your personal life and its not what Im doing. And on top of that, theres so much speculation. Some people want to believe them. Some people dont. To sit and listen to whats going on, its really arbitrary.

I dont really have an opinion on it until enough information comes out to where you can say who was right and who was wrong. You cant say too much about it (now). Obviously, thats what drives media and everything the speculation. But ultimately you got to understand (and) assume that he made a bad decision and you learn from it. You just hope its not the other side of the coin, thats all.

The perception has swung from Samardzija being a 10 million bust to the marketing department now making him a reason to buy tickets. A breakthrough 2012 season 9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings ended when he was shut down in September.

Looking back on it, was that the right call?

Absolutely not, Samardzija said. I want to pitch. Period. But, again, I dont make those decisions. Well answer that question in the future. At the end of this year (and) the year after that, if Im strong and healthy and ready to go, then obviously its going to be a great decision.

I dont ever think when youre healthy not playing is a good decision. I dont care what sport it is, anywhere youre at. You only get so many opportunities to play the sport youre playing. You need to take advantage of every chance you get. But I do understand why they did it and the reason for it. Because Im a reasonable man, I understand thats OK. The thing is we have common ground. We want to win.

As a whole, Im pretty stubborn. But if you get four guys in a room that say this is whats going to be best for our team in the future, then Im going to listen to it.

That attitude is why Samardzija is supposed to be a leader on the next contending Cubs team.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”