Lean Giants Behind Samardzija As He Returns To Wrigley Field

Jeff Samardzija getting ready to pitch

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, September 1, 2016 1:32 PM UTC

Thursday, Sep. 1, 2016 1:32 PM UTC

Giants and Cubs aren't scheduled to play again in 2016 after this weekend at Wrigley, but we could see them square off come October. The Cubs are -158 MLB odds for Thursday's series opener with the total TBA.

What You Need To Know
The Cubs are going to finish with the best record in the National League barring a collapse/major injury in the final month of the season. Thus that means they would play the wild-card winner in the NL Division Series. The benefit of that is that the two wild-card teams presumably would have to use their ace pitchers in that game and thus said ace pitcher would only be available once in the NLDS.

As things stand now, the Giants would play the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card game, although San Francisco is right on the Dodgers' heels in the NL West. But I believe the Dodgers will hang on to win that division if ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw is indeed activated off the DL next week. The Giants really blew it by not keeping the Dodgers in a huge hole when Kershaw was out those two-plus months. In fact, Kershaw's last start was June 26, a loss to the Pirates that dropped the Dodgers to 41-36 and eight games behind San Francisco in the West.

So if the Giants do play in the wild-card game, that would mean they surely would use ace lefty Madison Bumgarner if he's not needed on the final day of the regular season. The Cubs want no part of potentially seeing Bumgarner twice in a five-game NLDS with how good Bumgarner  has been in his postseason career. So that scenario could be just what Chicago is hoping for. Bumgarner, incidentally, is scheduled to pitch Saturday at Wrigley against Jake Arrieta. Both are in the Cy Young race this season after Arrieta won it last year.

San Francisco won two of three at home against the Cubs from May 20-22. Arrieta dominated in an 8-1 win in the opener. Kris Bryant, the NL MVP favorite, hit a three-run homer in the game. In Game 2, the Giants won 5-3 thanks in part to a two-run homer from Buster Posey. In the finale, the Giants won 1-0 behind a gem from Bumgarner. He also had the game's only RBI on a double. He became the first winning Giants pitcher to drive in the only run in a 1-0 game since Russ Ortiz on Aug. 8, 2000 against the Brewers.

The Cubs are +120 favorites on MLB odds to win the NL pennant and the Giants are +450 third-favorites behind Washington.

Monitor the status of Giants center fielder and leadoff hitter Denard Span here as he left Tuesday's game with a stiff neck and didn't start Wednesday. He's hitting .275 with nine homers, 46 RBIs and 12 steals this season.


Probable Pitchers
One of the best trades that Cubs team president Theo Epstein has made in his career was sending pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland in July 2014 for a minor-league shortstop named Addison Russell and another prospect. The A's  were going for it all but lost in the wild-card game that year. Both Samardzija and Hammel were gone after the season, with Samardzija traded to the White Sox and Hammel returning to the Cubs. Russell, meanwhile, has become an All-Star and one of the best shortstops in baseball.

Samardzija (11-9, 4.00) comes off seven shutout innings vs. the Braves, his third straight quality start. The Giants are 5-2 on MLB picks in his past seven starts on five days of rest. And the big right-hander gets the start against his former team here. "Shark" has faced the team he began his career with in 2008 just once, allowing six runs and nine hits over six innings in a home loss with the White Sox on Aug. 14, 2015. Bryant is 2-for-3 career off him with a double. Anthony Rizzo is 1-for-2 with a homer. Dexter Fowler has faced Samardzija more than any Cub and is 6-for-22 with two triples and a homer.

With John Lackey on the disabled list, the Cubs have been using usual lefty reliever Mike Montgomery in the rotation for a few turns. Montgomery (1-1, 4.76) went five innings last time out at the Dodgers, allowing three runs and six hits over five innings with a season-high 91 pitches. Montgomery has a 3.48 ERA in four starts this year, two with the Cubs and two with Seattle before being traded to Chicago. With Lackey likely to be activated on Sunday, this could be Montgomery's last start for a while.

Montgomery hasn't faced the Giants this year and has very little history against them. Angel Pagan is 2-for-4 career off him. Joe Panik is 1-for-4 with an RBI. Posey and Brandon Belt are each 0-for-2.


Final Analysis
Not often I would pick against the Cubs, especially at home, but this will be a big deal to Samardzija back in Wrigley. And Montgomery is likely only good for five innings. The total won't be set until a few hours before game time. The Giants are 8-1 in their past nine on Thursday. They have won four of the past five meetings. ​


MLB Free Pick: Giants +150
Best Line Offered: at BetCris

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