Cubs’ trade forces lining up with Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel

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ST. LOUIS — This Cubs season is almost 25 percent complete, which is still a long way toward September, much less the finishing touches on a renovated Wrigley Field or the 2020 TV bonanza (as long as the cable bubble doesn’t burst).

As the Cubs packed up after a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday afternoon, they would leave Busch Stadium with the worst record in baseball at 13-26, percentage points below the tanking Houston Astros.

[RELATED: Rizzo vs. The Shift: Cubs take what they can in loss to Cards]

Which makes you wonder where the Cubs would be if they didn’t get Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro’s bounce-back starts, Emilio Bonifacio’s hot streak, Welington Castillo’s step forward, Mike Olt’s eight homers, Hector Rondon’s 1.47 ERA and some very good starting pitching.

The trade forces are lining up with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the steady sign-and-flip guy who let one bad inning ruin his getaway day. Hammel joked it’s “the kiss of death” to strike out the side in the first, and sure enough he gave up a two-out, two-run single to Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha in the four-run second.

It depends on what aisle you want to shop in, but Hammel (4-2, 3.06 ERA) said physically that was the best he felt all year, despite giving up five runs in 5.1 innings.

Samardzija has a 1.45 ERA, going 7-for-8 in quality starts, but he will still be looking for his first win when he faces the first-place Milwaukee Brewers on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

“The wins thing to me is frustrating, because in general I think it’s a stat we’ve all moved away from,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s a big story because he’s now breaking records with his winless streak. But the way he’s pitched — he’s been as good as anybody in the National League. People recognize it.”

Or, as pitching coach Chris Bosio said: “Jeff Samardzija’s a beast.”

[MORE: Cubs hope Kris Bryant can change conversation, stopping talk about future]

When the Cubs woke up in St. Louis on Thursday, the five teams in the American League East were separated by only 3.5 games. The five teams in the National League East were separated by only 4.5 games.

There are teams at or above .500 that could be seeing windows closing or feeling some pressure from the fans and ownership to deliver results now — like the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies.

The New York Yankees — who will face Hammel and Samardzija next week at Wrigley Field — have 60 percent of their Opening Day rotation on the disabled list.

As part of the sweeping Tommy John epidemic, the Miami Marlins just lost Jose Fernandez, their All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young contender and box-office attraction in Little Havana.

[MORE: Cubs hoping Arodys Vizcaino will be Tommy John comeback story]

The Texas Rangers have gone to this well before with Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, but they do have seven pitchers from their 40-man roster now on the disabled list.

Hoyer knows there’s nothing left to say about the business side of Samardzija’s game: “Certainly, we’ve discussed his contractual status ad nauseam.”

Samardzija, who intends to test the free-agent market after the 2015 season, lobbied the Theo Epstein administration after a breakthrough year as a reliever in 2011, believing he could be a frontline guy in the rotation.

“Jeff deserves the most credit,” Hoyer said. “He was the one that really pounded the table saying he wanted to be a starter and he’s kept getting better and better. There’s times when he’s relied on his split, but this year he’s done a brilliant job of pitching with his two-seamer, staying down in the zone. He keeps evolving as a pitcher.”

The kind of pitcher who could be a difference-maker in a pennant race. It will take some time to play out, but no one will be surprised when the Cubs try to jump the market again.

“You got to stay looking at the positives,” Hammel said, “because we played a lot of good ballgames where we’re not getting blown out. It’s not ugly games. It’s just one or two pitches here and there or one or two timely hits that we just haven’t gotten. It’s not like we’re just laying down.”

The Nats are going to sign Francisco Rodriguez for some reason

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The Nationals bullpen is a tire fire. They’re about to add another tire. Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, Washington is about to sign free agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez.

K-Rod was released by the Tigers last week after posting an ERA of 7.82 over 28 appearances this season. He has a 1.658 WHIP, is allowing 11.9 hits per nine innings and is posting his highest walk rate in five years. Also worth noting: the Detroit Friggin’ Tigers decided that he was not good enough to be in their bullpen.

So, yeah, good luck with that Washington.

The Giants chemistry is suffering because a guy they all hated is gone

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I’ve spent years arguing with people about team chemistry. You know the battle lines on all of that now: people who talk a lot about team chemistry tend to attribute winning or losing to good or bad chemistry, respectively. I tend to think that characterizing chemistry is a retroactive exercise in which teams that win are happy and then cite their happiness as the reason and vice versa. Jim Leyland agrees with me, for what it’s worth, so I’m pretty happy with my take.

Not that I’ll claim a monopoly on wisdom here. I’ve never played on a professional baseball team. I don’t know what it’s like to try to prepare to play baseball while surrounded by jackwagons who don’t get along with anyone. I can’t imagine that makes life easier. Indeed, based on the testimony of players I have spoken to, I will grant that there is at least some intangible yet real benefit if everyone is happy an gelling. I dismiss team chemistry arguments for the most part, but if I ran a team I’d at least try to get rid of bad seeds if their bad seeding was not outweighed by seriously outstanding on-the-field play. You want your workers happy, folks.

All of which makes me wonder what the heck to do about this passage from Ken Rosenthal’s latest column. It’s about the reeling San Francisco Giants. They have all kinds of issues — their offense is putrid, their pitching isn’t much better and they’ve been without their ace most of the year — but today Rosenthal looks at their team chemistry. It’s a quiet and subdued clubhouse, he notes, and it has a lot of people wondering if something is wrong there. What could it be?

Sandoval, who was an often noisy and boisterous presence during his time with the club, departed as a free agent after that season. Pence has suffered a number of injuries in recent years and declined offensively, making it difficult for him to be as vocal as he was in the past. Some with the Giants muse that the team even misses Angel Pagan, who created an odd sort of unity because most of the players disliked him.

Read that last sentence again. And then go on with your talk about how team chemistry is a legitimate explanatory concept regarding what makes teams win or lose as opposed to a post-hoc rationalization of it.

Not that it’s not a good article overall. There’s some interesting stuff about the Giants’ bullpen culture. And, of course, we now know why no one signed Pagan last winter.