COMMENTARY | Fans waited nearly six months for the Pittsburgh Pirates to take the field on opening day. What they saw were bats colder than the snow showers that bombarded Pittsburgh earlier in the morning.
The team recorded only three hits in 31 at-bats against the Chicago Cubs, running up against a stellar performance by Jeff Samardzija. The Pirates walked only twice during the game and recorded 10 strikeouts.
It was so bad that the Pirates managed to hit only two balls out of the infield during Samardzija's eight innings on the mound. The Pirates finally scored a run in the ninth inning off closer Carlos Marmol, which isn't saying much. The damage had been done.
That's not enough run support to back up the effort put forth by Pirates ace A.J. Burnett, who fanned 10 batters and gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings. The bullpen sparkled in relief of Burnett, but the anemic offense couldn't muster any kind of comeback on this opening day.
Should fans worry? It was only opening day, after all, and the Pirates are accustomed to very slow starts offensively in the past several seasons. But the real reason the team's bats went silent Monday has a lot more to do with the other team than their own.
Samardzija on opening day continued a trend of completely dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates. In three career starts against the team before Monday, he had compiled a 0.92 earned run average and had only given up four runs in 39 innings pitched. One of those starts came last summer in the midst of the Pirates' climbing to the top of the division.
Samardzija has one complete game in the process and has recorded 33 strikeouts to only nine walks against the team. In the same fashion, he struck out nine Pirates on opening day and walked only one, giving up two measly hits in eight innings.
The Cubs' ace is primed for a breakout season in this, his second full year starting in the majors after being used out of the bullpen since 2008. Samardzija pitched to a 3.81 ERA last year in 28 games started, by no means putting up outstanding numbers. But he has absolutely owned the Pittsburgh Pirates in the process.
The worst part for Pirates fans is that the team will likely face Samardzija at least three more times during the remainder of the season. He's already proved he can decimate the Pirates early in the season. We'll have to wait and see what happens when Samardzija crosses paths with the team later, when he and the Pirates are in midseason form.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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- Jeff Samardzija