Everything lines up in Samardzija's favor

Cubs launch three HRs to back Samardzija

Everything lines up in Samardzija's favor
CHICAGO -- The Cubs weren't sure where the power would come from with Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena gone from the lineup, but Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart seem to be filling in just fine.

LaHair and Stewart hit consecutive homers, Geovany Soto launched a two-run shot in the eighth and Carlos Marmol survived a shaky inning to back Jeff Samardzija, lifting the Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Braves on a foggy Monday night.

LaHair hit the first pitch from Tommy Hanson (3-3) leading off the fourth for his eighth home run to tie the game at 1, and two pitches later, Stewart launched his third of the season, also to right. It was the first time the Cubs hit back-to-back home runs since their former corner infielders, Ramirez and Pena, did so last Aug. 11.

Ramirez and Pena had combined for four home runs by May 7, 2011, and finished with 26 and 28, respectively. LaHair leads all Major League first basemen in homers, and Stewart, who has been battling the flu and was questionable for Monday's game, seems to be warming up. He's hitting .381 in his past seven games to lift his average from .168 to .208.

"You're going to need power from those two guys, those two left-handed bats," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We need to score and score quick from those two guys. It was nice to have them back to back [in the lineup] and to hit back-to-back home runs. Having two lefties in their 'pen like [the Braves] do, you have to get to their starter."

But don't look for LaHair, who was batting .388 and has reached base safely in 25 straight games, to challenge Ty Cobb in single-season batting average.

"I don't think he's going to hit .400 when the season is over," Sveum said of his first baseman. "The home run pace and quality at-bats are what you're looking for on a daily basis."

How does LaHair do it?

"I've envisioned exactly what's taken place," said LaHair, 29, who has toiled in the Minor Leagues since 2003, waiting for a chance. "I've focused on having a great season, and I'm not surprised."

Samardzija (4-1) is the other feel-good story on the Cubs' roster. He struck out seven and gave up five hits over seven innings. The only hiccup came with two outs in the Braves' second when Jason Heyward homered into the first row of the right-field bleachers.

"Samardzija was really, really good," Atlanta's Chipper Jones said. "I had only faced him out of the bullpen, but he's got some staying power. Two heaters -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer. He cuts it sometimes. Command has always been kind of shaky for him. It looks like he's got the command thing down or at least he did tonight. He was really tough."

The Cubs starter got some help in the seventh. The Braves had runners at first and second with one out when pinch-hitter Eric Hinske lined out to LaHair, who threw to Starlin Castro covering at second for the double play.

"In your head immediately, you think that's a double down the line," Samardzija said. "That's what happens when you throw the ball in the zone and let your defense play behind you."

Samardzija did hit Heyward with a pitch in the seventh, and Eric O'Flaherty plunked David DeJesus with two outs in the Chicago seventh, prompting a warning to both benches from home-plate umpire Chris Conroy. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez argued the warning and was ejected. DeJesus later scored on Castro's single.

"There was no malicious effort there," Sveum said. "We certainly aren't going to hit Heyward in a one-run game. He's a guy who can steal a base. We're surviving right now and trying getting back to wins and get back to .500 and win at home. We're certainly not hitting somebody in a one-run ballgame."

Said Samardzija: "He came out and got that ball there that he hit the home run on that was down and away. I thought he was kind of diving over the plate, and I wanted to throw one in there and go back away. It got in there too tight."

Marmol had an interesting eighth. He walked the first two batters, which prompted a negative reaction from the crowd of 36,307, but was able to retire the Braves' 3-4-5 hitters and escape. As he came off the mound, Marmol pumped his chest with his fist and yelled. How did he stay focused after the walks?

"Not listen to the fans," Marmol said, smiling. "You know what? [Hearing the boos] made me go. I knew I needed to do better and throw strikes."

If he can eliminate the walks, Marmol could get his job back as the closer.

"I never said he wasn't going to close again," Sveum said. "I told him to always be ready to pitch and fight his way back to get his spot again to close ballgames."

Fans will have to wait and see.

"I need to pitch good," Marmol said. "That's what I need to do."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.