Jeff Samardzija, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo will become three of the centerpieces for the Chicago Cubs when they’re competing for National League pennants on an annual basis. During Opening Day 2013, these players showed what can happen when they all play well at the same time. They led the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was their first Opening Day win since 2009.
At age 28, Samardzija made his first career Opening Day start. Much like his first start in 2012, Samardzija was nearly perfect. Samardzija allowed just two hits and one walk in eight innings. He had nine strikeouts. Had his pitch count not reached 110, Samardzija could’ve finished the game. He had a stretch when he retired 14 consecutive batters.
Castro and Rizzo showed why many fans are so excited about having them as the 2-3 hitters. Castro had a base hit in each of his first two at-bats. Following Castro’s first hit, Rizzo capitalized with a two-run homer on the first pitch that he saw. Castro showed off his defensive range with a couple great plays from the infield. Rizzo made some nice grabs when he stretched for balls that nearly bounced in the dirt.
Welington Castillo was another youngster who came through with two doubles and one RBI. The Cubs are counting on Castillo to produce toward the bottom-half of the lineup, especially while Darwin Barney is on the disabled list with a lacerated knee.
It was an almost-flawless performance— almost. Despite the great infield defense from Rizzo and Castro, Brent Lillibridge committed an error on a routine groundball during the first inning. Samardzija got out of that jam. Lillibridge made up for that with a diving stop in the sixth inning. He did strike out in all three of his at-bats.
For the third consecutive time (exhibition games included), Carlos Marmol couldn’t finish an inning. He faced four batters and recorded one out. A 3-0 lead quickly became 3-1 with two runners on and one out. James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa had to bail him out.
This was an encouraging win for Cubs fans because most of the production came from the young nucleus, not stopgap players. It was good to see manager Dale Sveum have a short leash with Marmol. As the season progresses, let’s see if this offense can score more runs or if they become too dependent on Castro and Rizzo.