It looks like the Cubs' template for 2014 is setting up like this:
• Get good starting pitching.
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• Waste it by not hitting with runners in scoring position.
It was all on display again Saturday at Wrigley Field, where the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Cubs for the second straight day, this time 2-0.
Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija made his second start of the season. He took the loss as he fell to 0-1 with a nice 1.29 ERA.
The Cubs' starting pitchers have a 1.95 ERA, having given up 7 earned runs in 32⅓ innings. Four of the 5 starts by the Cubs (1-4) so far have been quality starts, and Edwin Jackson's non-quality start in Pittsburgh resulted in 1 earned run over 5⅓ innings.
But it matters not if you can't score runs.
The Cubs have pushed across a grand total of 8 runs in five games. Their hitting -- or lack thereof -- with runners in scoring position is almost uncanny. They went 0-for-7 Saturday, bringing their season total to 4-for-40.
Manager Rick Renteria perused his lineup card while being asked to explain the numbers.
"I can't," he said. "As I'm looking over the game card, we have the top of the order get on base quite a few times. We hit into a couple double plays with runners on first and second. Just haven't been able to get the big hit. Some of the guys were starting to come to life a little bit today. All in all, I thought we played a relatively clean game."
Leadoff man Emilio Bonificio was 2-for-5, and he's now hitting .542. Second hitter Starlin Castro was 3-for-4 with a double play. However, third-place hitter Justin Ruggiano was 0-for-4. Anthony Rizzo, who normally hits third but batted fourth against lefty Cliff Lee, was 2-for-4.
Overall, the Cubs outhit the Phillies 10-7, but the hits didn't come when they needed them the most. Good hitters usually hit no matter the situation, and Renteria was asked if hitting with men in scoring position is a mindset.
"I don't know if it's a mindset," he said. "I do think you have to be relaxed and know that the pitcher is on the ropes a little bit. Again, it's something you talk about and you see if it starts to take hold in that particular type of situation so guys can be little bit more relaxed."
Catcher Welington Castillo (0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts) agreed with the boss.
"Everybody wants to do good," said Castillo, who has been handling the pitching staff well. "Any time, we can turn that around. Just relax."
Samardzija has never been one to throw his teammates under the bus, and he didn't start doing that Saturday.
"I see these guys work every day," he said. "I know what they're doing. If it was a different situation and I thought guys were being lazy or this or that, obviously it would be different. These guys come to work every day and do everything we can. It's early in the season, and we're going to keep going, keep pushing and figure this out."
On the mound, Samardzija worked 7 innings, giving up 6 hits and both runs while walking three and striking out eight.
He gave up a solo homer to Chase Utley in the first inning. It was Utley's second homer in two days. Samardzija also gave up a single run in the fourth. The strikeouts were timely, especially the one against Wil Nieves to end the sixth inning with two runners on base. Samardzija also relied on his softer stuff on some of those strikeouts instead of trying to blow the ball past every hitter.
"I think that's part of the plan we're talking about," he said. "When we're attacking early in the zone, it gets them maybe a little more aggressive, which in turn later in the game, you can start going to your secondary pitches and getting swings and misses or easy groundballs.
"It's not always going to be that way, but the first two games have been pretty positive with the way they've gone. We'll keep looking to improve. There are still some things we can do better. If we can get Utley out or he can throw me a bone and get himself out, that would be great, too."
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