White Sox

Matt Garza keeps waiting for things to turn

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Matt Garza keeps waiting for things to turn

MILWAUKEE Matt Garza keeps saying its gonna turn.

Garzas postgame media sessions are cant-miss events. Standing tall in front of his locker, or trapped inside the Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon, he doesnt point fingers.

Garza can be stubborn and cocky. Remember him announcing were right where we need to be after a comeback win last July left the Cubs 17 games under .500?

It was silent inside the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park after Thursdays 4-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Norichika Aoki had hammered Casey Colemans fastball over the right-field fence in the 10th inning, a shot that left the Cubs 19 games under .500 and wondering what was going to happen next.

We knew coming in that this was going to be tough, Garza said. It is what it is. Just keep going, keep playing and keep getting ready.

This could change by the end of July, but on Thursday morning this looked like a sellers market. Eighteen teams were at .500 or above, and could think about the extra wild card. The five teams in the American League East were separated by only four games.

Garza again looked like a frontline guy, allowing two runs in six innings. But Aoki who only had one inside-the-park homer in his first 129 major-league plate appearances hit one off Garza in the fourth inning.

Same old story, manager Dale Sveum said. Were getting great starts. Theyre going six or seven and giving up one or two and coming away with a loss consistently.

Thats kind of the way things are going. You expect (Ryan) Braun or Corey Hart or somebody else to hit two home runs.

Speaking broadly and not about a particular player general manager Jed Hoyer was curious to see what the landscape would look like leading up to July 31.

There is that delicate balance of when to strike, Hoyer said. Striking early, waiting to the deadline, it is a very tricky balance. Thats why you sort of have to have a price, a value in your head.

When its reached you feel like thats the maximum value you have to be willing to act. But it is a tricky thing and, frankly, thats why most deals get made at the end of July, because most people just tend to wait and they figure the price will go up.

Ryan Dempster has no-trade rights, but doesnt sound like hell be an obstructionist. Long-term, Theo Epstein has said the organization is betting for having a leader like Dempster on the pitching staff.

With free agency in sight, how far does this team look from contention?

I dont know, Dempster said. I really dont. I think we just got to focus on trying to win as many ballgames as we can. And its so easy to sit there and look at us at the bottom of the standings and dwell on that.

Or we can just try and get better every day and come to the ballpark and win today. Thats all that matters. Stranger things have happened. Theres been some teams in some bad spots before that have played themselves out of them and youre a lot closer than you realize.

Garza is the litmus test of what you really think about the Cubs, and there may not be an easy answer. He remains under club control through the end of the 2013 season, and Cubs executives know how difficultexpensive it is to acquire potentially elite starting pitching.

Garza has already made his bones in the postseason and earned a reputation as a big-game pitcher, but he has a career losing record and the Cubs havent won a game hes started since April 29.

The Cubs struck out 37 times during this three-game series, have already lost six of seven on this 10-day road trip and couldnt hold the lead after Bryan LaHairs pinch-hit, two-run homer in the eighth inning.

Its kind of black and white, LaHair said. Its not fun to lose. Were losing a lot, but we work so hard. So at the end of the day, if youre going to lose, at least you can look in the mirror and say to yourself: Did I give it my all today?

I really feel like everyone in this clubhouse is doing that and if we keep doing that this year, next year, just the way it keeps going I just think this clubhouse will click.

Garza wont be giving any concessions speeches, but he would be fun to watch in this uniform if things do finally turn. Heres how he broke down the Aoki at-bat, and why his personality might stick in an organization looking to play with a hard edge.

You just tip your cap, Garza said, and next time you face him, you go right back in there and shove it down his throat. Make sure he doesnt like trying to sit and spin on stuff anymore.

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.