Now that the non-waiver trading deadline has passed, one thing is certain for the Chicago Cubs: The final two months of the season are going to seem interminably long.
With Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm now pitching for other teams, Jeff Samardzija is the leader in the clubhouse with just seven victories — a number that didn't change after his 6-1 defeat against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
"It's been a whirlwind of a few days with all the stuff that's been going on, and we need to get our feet back under us," Samardzija said. "We lost a couple of team leaders and veteran guys like Pauley and Demps, and you can sit here and make all the excuses you want. But those guys aren't coming back, so you've got to keep your head on straight, work your way around it and find a way to make it work.
"For myself, I expect a lot out of myself regardless," he added. "I've got to keep the ball down in the zone and get some clutch outs when I need them to keep the team in the game. Obviously with those guys gone, every start that I make is important. So I need to pitch deeper into games and be efficient."
Samardzija (7-9) gave up five runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings, including the first of A.J. Ellis' two home runs and a two-run single by newly acquired Dodger Hanley Ramirez, who is 8-for-15 lifetime against the right-hander.
"They've got a good lineup," Samardzija said. "Tonight my splitter was just up and wasn't very consistent, but I thought I pitched around it all right. I threw some good fastballs and my slider was real good. There were a couple of mistakes on my part — leaving that splitter up in the zone to Ellis with two strikes after attacking him with fastballs, then leaving the ball over the plate to Hanley in the sixth. Things like that make a difference in the game."
Samardzija, a former Notre Dame wide receiver, had a 1.91 ERA over his previous five starts after surrendering nine runs over 4 1-3 innings in a 17-1 loss to the New York Mets on June 27 at Wrigley Field.
"I'm not a big numbers guy. I know there's times where you pitch really well and the numbers don't speak for it, and other times where you don't pitch so well and you get out of it pretty clean," he said. "Obviously I don't want to walk guys, which got me in trouble in the early months. But you learn from outing to outing, and right now I really like where I'm at. When I don't perform well, it's a really fine line on why I didn't."
Darwin Barney, who sat out Wednesday's game for precautionary reasons after getting hit in the head by Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett on Tuesday night, reached on an infield hit with one out in the fifth after Ellis fielded the swinging bunt about 10 feet up the third base line and pulled first baseman James Loney off the bag with his hurried throw. Luis Valbuena tied the score 1-all with an RBI double inside first base with Loney playing even with the bag.
The Dodgers regained the lead in the bottom half with two runs, after Ramirez beat the Cubs' defensive shift with a grounder through the hole vacated by second baseman Barney and legged out a double. Ramirez scored the go-ahead run on Loney's double and Ellis added an RBI single to go along with his third-inning homer. He added his 10th of the season leading off the seventh against Manny Corpas.
"Getting the base hit to get the runner in from third base is something I'm more proud of tonight than either of the home runs," Ellis said after his first multihomer game in the big leagues. "I've struggled in that situation this year, so to be able to distance the lead from 2-1 to 3-1, that's the at-bat that I'll go home tonight being the most proud of."
Ramirez increased the margin to 5-1 in the sixth with a two-run single that chased Samardzija. In nine games since joining the Dodgers in a trade from Miami, the three-time All-Star is 9-for-35 with 10 RBIs.
Chad Billingsley (7-9) won his third straight start since coming off the disabled list, allowing a run and four hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts. The right-hander lost five consecutive starts with a 6.21 ERA during a stretch before going on the disabled list with elbow pain, and since then has allowed just two runs in 20 1-3 innings.
"He felt like he didn't need to go on in the first place, but I think sometimes you're body's telling you something," manager Don Mattingly said. "That pain was basically letting him know that he needed to miss that one start. Just giving him those days off really allowed that thing to calm down. It wasn't anything big, but it was big enough to be causing pain and fluid. Obviously that time off has allowed him to be sharper. He's been going deep in every game and he's throwing strikes."
Billingsley, in the second year of a four-year contract that will pay him more than $41 million, had been 0-4 with a 4.70 ERA in his previous eight starts at Dodger Stadium since beating Pittsburgh 4-1 in his first home start of the season on April 11. This is the eighth time in his eight-year career that he has won as many as three straight starts, but he has never won more than four consecutive starts.