Today's Matchup: Milwaukee (Estrada) vs Chicago (Samardzija)

Yup, it's definitely a bat.

Jeff Samardzija (4-1, 3.03) has been having a very good first season as a starting pitcher. The Cubs, of course, had been using him out of the bullpen for the past four years with mixed results. His first year he pitched in 20 games and had a 2.28 ERA. Then, in 2009 and 2010, his ERA ballooned dramatically and he only pitched in 27 major league games between the two seasons. 2011 was his first full year on the big league roster. He ended up pitching in 75 games, compiling a 2.97 ERA and a 3.66 FIP. He had a 8.90 K/9, but also a 5.11 BB/9, continuing a trend of high walk rates.

The walks are where Samardzija has really improved this season. He has a career 4.84 BB/9 but this season has cut that all the way down to 2.79. He even ramped his strikeouts up a tick to 9.08 K/9. His year didn't start off as well though as he allowed five earned runs in five innings and five earned runs in 3.2 innings early in the year. After three starts, he had a 5.71 ERA and was getting hit hard. Of course, his very first start of the year may also have been his best. Against the Nationals he allowed just one earned run on four hits in 8.2 innings with an 8:0 K/BB ratio.

In fact, outside of those two five-run starts, Samardzija has not allowed more than one earned run in a start. After bouncing around the past few seasons, it seems like the left hander has finally found a home in the rotation.

Samardzija throws four pitches at least 10% of the time: A 95 MPH four-seamer (28%), a 95 MPH two-seamer (27%), an 86 MPH slider (20%), and an 86 MPH splitter (11%). He'll also mix in a cutter and changeup on occasion.

Samardzija has faced just two Brewers at least ten times. In 11 PA, Ryan Braun has hit .444/.545/.778 while Corey Hart has hit .222/.300/.333 in 10 PA.

For the Brewers, it's Marco Estrada's (0-2, 4.50) turn in the rotation. In three starts since Chris Narveson went down for the season, Estrada has a 5.00 ERA while allowing opponents to OPS .792 against him. He has pitched five, then six, then seven innings but, unfortunately, his earned runs allowed has gone up in each start as well, from one to four to five. His first start was excellent, as he allowed just two hits. However, he failed to pitch well against the Cardinals and Reds, who are, of course, the Brewers biggest division rivals this season.

The good news for Estrada is that he has done an excellent job on not walking batters. This year, he has just a 1.88 BB/9. He has also seen a small uptick in his strikeout rate with a 8.63 K/9 in 2012. His biggest problem has been the long ball. He has allowed six homers already this season, including two in each of his last two starts, and has a 2.25 HR/9. It's unlikely that his home run rate will stay that high, but he'll need to cut down on that soon. If he doesn't start pitching better than his last couple starts, the Brewers may call on top prospect Wily Peralta.

Estrada has not faced a Cubs hitter at least ten times.

Lineup, via baseballpress.com:

1. Norichika Aoki (L) CF
3. Ryan Braun (R) LF
4. Aramis Ramirez (R) 3B
5. Corey Hart (R) RF
6. Taylor Green (L) 1B
7. Brooks Conrad (S) 2B
8. Edwin Maysonet (R) SS
9. Marco Estrada (R) P

And in the bullpen:

Vinnie Chulk pitched two innings (33 pitches) Friday.
Manny Parra pitched two innings (30 pitches) Friday.
John Axford pitched .2 innings (29 pitches) Friday.
Francisco Rodriguez pitched one inning (10 pitches) Friday.
Kameron Loe pitched .2 innings (9 pitches) Friday.
Tim Dillard pitched .1 innings (1 pitch) Friday and 1 inning (10 pitches) yesterday.
Jose Veras pitched .1 innings (21 pitches) Friday and 1 inning (18 pitches) yesterday.

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