Samardzija's nickname is Shark, but it should be Sitting Duck. In his final six starts last year, he was 0-2 with four no decisions. This year he's 0-3 with five no decisions. His record this year is incredible, considering his 1.45 ERA—second among big league starters to the Reds' Johnny Cueto (1.25).
Baseball policy requires every club to have an all-star representative. If the teams were picked today, which Cub would be anointed? Starlin Castro, who's hitting .291 with just six homers? Anthony Rizzo, at .284 with seven homers? The clear choice is Samardzija.
On the evening of July 15, at Target Field in Minneapolis, Samardzija could become the first winless pitcher to start an all-star game.
"On the hill for the National League, 29-year-old Jeff Samardzija," Joe Buck would say. "The Cubs' ace is oh and ten."
That would be embarrassing for the north-siders. Samardzija can foreclose the possibility by beating the Brewers this afternoon at Wrigley.
After 14 winless starts, you'd figure the odds are with him. Alas, such thinking is gambler's fallacy. If heads comes up on 14 straight coin flips, the odds of tails on the 15th flip is still only 50-50. A good result isn't any more probable after a string of bad ones. Consider the Cubs' last six decades, midwestern springs, and Chicago mayoral elections.
Samardzija certainly deserves a better fate, which is to say a better team. In two games last week, he surrendered a total of one unearned run on five hits in 15 innings. The Cubs dropped both games, but Samardzija escaped with no decisions. The single run the north-siders scored in the two contests was scored by Samardzija. That was in a game with the White Sox, in which the Cubs managed one hit through the first eight innings—a double by Samardzija.
As we suggested before the crosstown series, the problem Samardzija and his team have could be related to the ex-Cubs factor. In 1981, Chicago freelance writer Ron Berler determined that teams with three or more ex-Cubs had never won the World Series. Berler wrote that these teams simply had too much Cubness, which he defined as "the rankest sort of abject failure . . . a condition chronic among all Cubs, past and present." (And Berler was a Cubs fan.) The ex-Cubs factor has been a reliable predictor of failure ever since.
Everyone knows the Cubs intend to trade Samardzija—he's practically an ex-Cub already. Jason Hammel, 31, and Emilio Bonifacio, 29, are too old for the Cubs' alleged rebuilding scheme, but have been playing well enough to perhaps interest other teams.
So the Cubs may be dealing with both Cubness and a pre-ex-Cubs factor. Given that, it's impressive they're only 13 under.
Speaking of, time to update the Cubs' magic number. The club's owners are hosting a "Party of the Century" this season, honoring Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary by squeezing every last memorabilia dollar out of it. And the team itself seems to be striving for a century of defeats. The Cubs' magic number is the combination of blown leads, walk-off collapses, nail-biters, cliff-hangers, heartbreakers, shellackings, whitewashings, and garden-variety setbacks still needed to get the north-siders to 100 losses and make it an unforgettable year. When we reported the magic number three weeks ago, it was 87; the Cubs, now 13-26, have reduced it to 74. They're on pace to lose 108.
UPDATE, 5:45 PM: Samardzija went only five innings today, allowing four runs, two earned, in a 4-3 loss. The Cubs backed him up with a passed ball and three errors. Over the last six innings, they had one single. Samardzija is now 0-4 with an ERA of 1.62.