Jeff Samardzija picked a good time to have one of his best starts of the season. The former Notre Dame pitcher/wide receiver struckout six in 8.1 innings to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 4-2 win over arch rival St. Louis.
Samardzija (4-7) earns his first win since May 27 after allowing just a pair of runs on seven hits, including a sixth inning Carlos Beltran home run. The Cardinals have the best offense in the National League and their 45 wins still lead all of baseball.
"I'm watching film five days before and trying to find some weaknesses," Samardzija said of his preparation for the matchup. "You can look as hard as you want and you're not going to find it. You just know your margin of error against this team is real small and you've just got to deal with it."
Samardzija also did it while being matched against St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright (10-4). Wainwright entered the game with a 2.18 ERA. He and Detroit's Max Scherzer are the first 10-game winners in baseball this season.
The six strikeouts have Samardzija tied with Seattle's Felix Hernandez for fourth in the MLB with 110 Ks for the season. Texas hurler Yu Darvish is at the top of the charts with 137 strikeouts. Scherzer has 116, while New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey leads the National League with 115.
Samardzija continues to put up great overall numbers despite lackluster run support from the Cubs' inconsistent offense. He was 1-4 in April despite a 3.35 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 37.2 innings pitched. In five May starts he totaled 33 Ks and just 10 walks in 35.0 innings.
Shark had a career-high 13 strikeouts in just 5.2 innings back on April 7 against Atlanta. He had his second double digit strikeout game of the season when he fanned 11 in 6.1 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He took the loss in the game against the Braves and finished with a no decision in a 12-4 loss to the D-Backs.
The Diamondbacks and Dodgers made recent headlines for their bean ball game that saw several players and coaches receive suspensions for their on-field fight. Arizona third base coach Matt Williams took exception with Samardzija pitching too close to D-Backs starter Ian Kennedy in that game (Kennedy was also pitching vs. L.A. in the game that resulted in the suspensions).
"I don't know why I'd be trying to hit (Kennedy)," Samardzija said after the game. "There's no reason for me to do that. I was losing the ball on the arm side for a while and they apparently didn't like that."
Samardzija has hit 15 batters this season. He is one of a handful of former Notre Dame baseball players currently starring in Major League Baseball.
A.J. Pollock - Arizona Diamondbacks
Pollock was 1-for-3 against Samardzija in that June 1 contest. He was responsible for just one of Samardzija's 11 Ks that day at Wrigley Field. The former Notre Dame infielder/outfielder is batting .255 with five home runs, 22 RBIs and 28 runs scored.
Pollock has been a fixture in the Arizona lineup this season. After making his Major League debut last year, Pollock was tied for the National League lead with nine doubles a month into the season. His 19 current two-baggers have him tied for eighth in the NL along with St. Louis second baseman Matt Carpenter and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (23 doubles leads the NL).
The 2009 first round draft pick batted just .256 in April, but got hot in May by hitting at a .301 clip in 83 at-bats. Pollock is hitting just .176 though through the first two-plus weeks of June with just nine hits in 51 ABs this month. He was 2-for-3 with his 19th double of the season Tuesday against Miami.
David Phelps - Pitcher - New York Yankees
The 2008 draft pick of the Yankees has seen all of his MLB time over the last two seasons. Phelps was the Yankees' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 and made his big league debut last season, going 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA.
Phelps started with season working out of the bullpen. He logged 17.0 innings in six relief outings in June. He was 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks out of the pen.
Things took off for the former All-Big East pitcher when he joined the starting rotation in May. Phelps was 2-2 with a 4.32 ERA in six May starts. He struckout 28 with 12 walks in 33.1 IP. He allowed two home runs as a reliever in April, but has allowed just two home runs in roughly double the innings as a starter.
Phelps is 1-1 through three starts this month. He has fired a total of 18.0 innings in starts against Cleveland, Seattle and the Angels in June. The right hander combined for 15 strikeouts and nine walks with 13 hits allowed in those outings.
Phelps, who unlike Samardzija was a teammate of Pollock's at Notre Dame, saw Pollock go 0-for-2 with a strikeout in a head to head matchup in April.
John Axford - Pitcher - Milwaukee Brewers
Axford's career arc has hit a plateau with the up and down season he has had to date. The former Milwaukee closer racked-up 105 saves from 2010-2012, but is yet to record a save this season after blowing three early save opportunities.
The 6-foot-6 reliever is 2-3 with a 4.66 ERA in 29.0 innings in 2013. Axford allowed five home runs in his first 10.2 innings this season, but he has settled down since moving into a setup role. In his last 18.1 innings Axford has yielded just one long ball and a total of six runs over his last 21 trips to the mound.
Jeff Manship - Pitcher - Colorado Rockies Organization
Manship, a former teammate of Samardzija's at Notre Dame, was a 14th round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2006. Manship and Samardzija formed a formidable 1-2 pitching punch in 2006 in what was current LSU head coach Paul Mainieri's last Fighting Irish team. Manship was named Big East Pitcher of the Year that season.
The right hander made his Major League Debut with the Twins in 2010, going 2-1 with a 5.28 ERA in 13 appearances that season. He has a 3-2 career big league record with a 6.20 ERA.
Manship was released by the Twins after the 2012 season and was signed last November by the Rockies. He pitched in four Rockies games in spring training this year, going 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA with one start and three relief appearances to his credit. He logged a total of 7.0 innings before being sent to the Rockies' AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs. He is 3-6 with a 6.33 ERA in 17 games (11 starts) there since the start of the 2013 season.