Inside Baseball: AL East could actually hinge on Samardzija - The Buffalo News

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Inside Baseball: AL East could actually hinge on Samardzija

In what’s looking like a very jumbled season for the American League East, the most important X-Factor player may not be on any of the teams yet. If anybody, especially the Blue Jays or Yankees, can swing a deal with the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija, the scales in the division could be tipped for good. One more starter, especially a potential No. 1-2 guy, seems to be a key.

Samardzija is putting up downright silly numbers this year. The Cubs’ bullpen blew yet another lead for him Wednesday in Wrigley Field, inheriting his 2-0 lead and promptly turning it into a 4-2, 13-inning loss. Samardzija threw seven shutout innings, scattering four hits.

So his historic numbers through 10 starts show an 0-4 record but a 1.46 earned-run average – the lowest ever for a winless pitcher through 10 starts.

Samardzija has gone 16 consecutive starts without a win dating to Aug. 24, and the Cubs are 1-9 in his starts this year. Even worse, he entered the weekend as the only pitcher on the rotation of his last-place team to have a losing record. Bizarre.

While Samardzija’s strikeouts per nine innings figure has dropped to just 7.1 this year from last year’s 9.0 and his 2012 career high of 9.3, his control has improved.

His walks per nine innings this year stand at just 2.8 – and they were at 5.1 in 2011, his last year in the bullpen. He’s also allowed just two home runs in 68 innings, after giving up a career-high 25 longballs last year in 213 innings.

Samardzija is setting himself up for a huge payday and it’s easy to forget that this isn’t even his walk year. He’s only arbitration-eligible after this year and not a free agent until after 2015, so he can let his market keep building if he wants because he has plenty of money in his pocket.

Samardzija, remember, was a star receiver at Notre Dame and a likely first-round NFL draft pick when he agreed to a five-year, $10-million contract with the Cubs in 2007 to drop football. With options exercised since, he has already pocketed more than $20 million.

The Cubs, of course, are going nowhere. It stands to reason they should try to deal Samardzija now to maximize their return because a team that acquires him could simply pay him again through arbitration for 2015 or try to negotiate a long-term deal this offseason.

To get Samardzija, the Blue Jays almost certainly would have to deal with either Bisons starter Marcus Stroman, who got some time in this month in the Toronto bullpen, or Double-A standout Aaron Sanchez. Tough call but when you haven’t made the playoffs in 20 years, it’s one you might have to make.

The Yankees’ top tier talent is in the lower minors right now but their thin farm system is finally improving. The Red Sox could use help because of the struggles of Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz, and have plenty of prospects at all levels.

After Wednesday’s loss, it sure seemed like Samardzija was sending some subliminal messages to the Yankees when he was asked if he feels his season is being wasted.

“We’re not wasting anything,” said Samardzija. “I think with modern technology, every game pretty much gets seen and watched. I don’t think it’s any secret what I’m doing. I can get better, and I’m doing some things out there that are good, and you look to keep building on that.”

Samardzija has faced the Yankees in two series this season and said he’s been impressed with the way Joe Girardi’s crew goes about its business.

“It’s really nice to see how they run things, the players and how they play,” he said. “There’s a certain method to their madness with the guys they pick and the guys they decide to put in pinstripes.

“All their guys are professionals. They come out and they play every day, and as you saw today, they’ll play 13, 14 innings, and they’re professionals. In this game, that’s what you need, guys that come out every day and do their job.”

If that’s not an advertisement of interest, I don’t know what is.

Skipper Roberts

Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Roberts is one former Bison I firmly believe will be a big-league manager someday and he got his first chance Thursday night.

The Padres bench coach took over for the 5-1 loss to the Cubs so manager Bud Black could attend the college graduation of his daughter from the University of Maryland. Black returned in time for the Padres’ 11-1 win Friday night.

“It’s exciting. But I think that the preparation for this one game for me and for us has kind of overtaken that,” Roberts said. “So for me, it’s more about helping us get a win.”

While the game wasn’t that great, Roberts told about a special pregame celebration he had at home for his new role. Roberts, his wife and two children have a red plate marked with “Your Special Day” for meals that they share, and the children get the majority of the time.

On Thursday, it went to dad for his stint as manager.

“Before they headed off to school, there’s a red plate we have at our house, whenever there’s a special moment, that child – I guess I’m the child for the day – gets to use the special plate. So they wished me luck.”

Roberts, of course, is best known for his stolen base for the Red Sox in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. He is the Bisons’ modern-era stolen base leader with 97 in a career that stretched from 1998 to 2001, and he was inducted into the Hall last year.

Poking the Pigs

You might remember this corner referenced over the winter how the Lehigh Valley IronPigs made a killing on merchandise sales with bacon-themed caps and would be wearing a bacon stripe on their pants and selling many bacon-connected concession items this season.

Not everyone is laughing. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes vegan diets and alternatives to animal testing, went whole-hog in protest last week.

The group is asking team owners to “stop glorifying bacon” by posting a billboard just outside Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa., equating bacon with cigarettes.

The team, meanwhile, is continuing to sizzle the bacon. It created a Facebook campaign to support mascot Chris P. Bacon (seriously), and owners Craig Stein and Joe Finley wrote the committee about healthy options at the park and fans’ choices.

“We are not in the business or habit of dictating to people what they should or shouldn’t eat or how parents should raise their children,” they wrote. “Whether it’s an ice cold Coca-Cola, an adult beverage, hot dog, salad, or yes, even bacon, we think people are more than capable to make those decisions themselves rather than hearing from you or us what they should or shouldn’t eat.”

Around the horn

• The return of Stephen Drew will help the Red Sox, but they still have the issue of their weak rotation and the growing chatter that new catcher A.J. Pierzynski is less than a hit in the clubhouse or with his pitching staff. Big shocker there. Pierzynski’s reputation has been less than stellar around the game for years.

• As part of the 100th anniversary celebration at Wrigley Field, the Cubs covered the outer brick walls at the rear of the bleachers on Waveland Avenue with beautiful black and white murals of famous scenes from the ballpark’s past. When I drove by a couple weeks ago while on hockey duty, I was struck how they fit right in.

One issue arose last week: The Cubs had to take one down and replace it with a different collage because historians found the 1930s era picture was actually taken across town at Comiskey Park. Oops.

• Tweet late Wednesday night from erudite Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose last-place team lost to the A’s despite giving up just one hit, and then responded with back-to-back walkoff victories: “I want the boys to enjoy the struggle so they can draw on the experience when it happens again because it will happen again. Stop & learn.”


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