The Chicago Cubs dropped their Opening Day game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in heartbreaking fashion. However, despite the loss, starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija excelled for the second straight season on Opening Day. If Samardzija is able to sustain that success all season long, the Cubs would be wise to ultimately lock him up to a long-term deal and declare him the ace of the future.
Last year on Opening Day, also at PNC Park, Samardzija dazzled with an eight-inning, two hit, one walk, nine strikeout performance, giving up nothing but goose eggs. Yesterday, once again he performed like an ace pitcher, going seven strong innings, giving up only five hits, two walks, and no runs while striking out three. He kept the Pirate hitters off balance all afternoon. The key to Samardzija’s success was efficient command and a low pitch count. If only every day could be Opening Day when Samardzija takes the bump for the Cubs.
In his follow up start a season ago, Samardzija had the strikeouts working, but only lasted 5.2 innings and gave up four runs in a loss to the Atlanta Braves. His second start in 2014 will likely be over the weekend against the Philadelphia Phillies in front of the home crowd. Stringing quality starts together and getting off to a fast start will be huge for the right-hander, and the Cubs as a whole.
It is one thing to have the mentality of an ace starter, which Samardzija has no doubt. But it is another to be able to go out every fifth day and bring it for your team. To be able to stop a long losing streak and give your team a win is what sets apart the great ones from the rest.
During Spring Training, there was some minor discussions as to who should get the ball on Opening Day, either Samardzija or Travis Wood. Wood was an All-Star last season, and has really evolved into his own the last season and a half. But on Day 1, Samardzija went out and showed why he was the correct call for the Cubs. If he can turn out 25 more starts just like that, the Cubs would be wise to lock up Samardzija long-term and call him their ace for the future.