Hero: Starlin Castro went 4-for-4 with a triple, scored three times, and drove in three to break out of his slump and pace the Cubs' 17-hit attack. It was his third four-hit effort of the season.
Hero: Ryan Dempster (1-4) had his second straight solid start, allowing two runs (both earned) on five hits while striking out four and walking none.
"I'm doing a better job of executing pitches," Dempster said. "I was able to keep the ball down, for the most part, today."
Hero: Alfonso Soriano took over the major league lead in home runs when he belted his 11th of the season leading off the seventh.
I understand that the alternatives are as appealing as the selection of women at closing time at the neighborhood dive, but I wish the Cubs would pull the plug on the James Russell-in-the-starting-rotation experiment.
Hero: Andrew Cashner was terrific in his first major league start before exiting after 5 1/3 innings with tightness in his pitching shoulder. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just two hits, struck out two, and walked one. He went to a three-ball count on just two batters, and fired 43 of his 72 pitches for strikes.
When spring training opened last month, Cubs manager Mike Quade let it be known that there would be open competition for a large percentage of the spots on his team's Opening Day roster.
The improved play the Cubs demonstrated under interim manager Mike Quade during the season's final weeks (a 24-13 record) was encouraging but it doesn't change the fact that the 2010 season was an unmitigated disaster.
Heroes: Relievers Justin Berg, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo, Andrew Cashner, James Russell, and Thomas Diamond combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
Heroes: Jeff Baker (4-for-5, 2B, 2 RBI) and Welington Castillo (2-for-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI) led the Cubs' 10-hit attack. It was the first major league home run for Castillo, a 23-year-old rookie catcher.
Hero: Casey Coleman (2-2) allowed three runs - all earned - on five hits in six-plus innings while striking out five and walking four. The 23-year-old right-hander survived a 31-pitch first inning in which he allowed two hits and a pair of walks, but surrendered just one run. Coleman, who was aided by a pair of double plays, exited after giving up doubles to the first two hitters in the bottom of the seventh.
Much of the debate regarding how the Cubs should go about building a winner has centered on whether the team should "play the kids" or pursue a quicker fix.
Hero: Jeff Samardzija (1-1) worked 5 2/3 shutout innings and added an RBI single en route to his third major league victory and first as a starter. Samardzija allowed six hits, walked four, and struck out one.
Hero: In his fifth career start, rookie Casey Coleman (1-2) allowed one (earned) run on five hits over six innings while striking out three and walking three. The 23-year-old right-hander has gone at least six innings in each of his last four starts.
How do you know that you're in a room with somebody who went to Notre Dame?
In his first 26 appearances for the Cubs, Jeff Samardzija looked as golden as Notre Dame's dome.
Hero: Randy Wells. It's getting old. Wells allowed just one run and six hits over six innings, but failed to figure in the decision because of an impotent Cubs offense and an awful bullpen.
"According to Stats Inc., Samardzija had a 0.93 earned-run average in his first 16 games as a Cub, and has a 7.77 ERA in 33 games since," Paul Sullivan notes in the Trib this morning.
It's still not clear what the best role for Samardzija is. He began as a starter but was touted as a closer even as a prospect.
And does this report from his brief minor league career sound familiar?
"On Sunday Samardzija, currently 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA, pitched like a prospect who split time between sports. His fastball was there, reaching 95 mph. However, he struggled with his off-speed pitches, allowing 10 hits and two earned runs in 5.1 innings.
"Performances like this have scouts from other major league organizations suggesting that Samardzija might eventually be better suited to the closer's role. Samardzija's lack of secondary pitchers, scouts reason, will be less of a liability if hitters have fewer chances to face him."
But Samardzija thought then - and still thinks now - that he's better suited to be a starter.
"Samardzija says he often has trouble getting the feel for his off-speed pitches early in games, only to have them come around in the middle innings. Off-speed pitches are usually the last ones to come to a power pitcher.
"Splitting time between football and baseball shortened the amount of time Samardzija could dedicate to mastering a variety of pitches. He expects to develop his secondary pitches quickly now that he's dedicated to baseball and shrugs off the idea of ending up in the pen.
"'I think I'm a starter,' Samardzija said. 'I think I always will be. I think I can go late in the innings. There's really no depth to that (evaluation). It's just hearsay.'"
At this point Samardzija seems best suited for Iowa, and maybe when Ted Lilly returns that's where he'll end up.
Hero: Marlon Byrd's two-run homer in the fourth inning tied the game at 4, and came right after Pat and Ron explained what a terrific guy Marlon is and what a great presence he is in the clubhouse. He could not have timed it better.
Goat: The Cubs have a full-time nutritionist on the payroll. Would someone please tell him to make sure that Carlos Zambrano is properly hydrated? Water, Gatorade, whatever. I thought the mention of Z's cramps was a thing of the past.