Preps Talk

The method to Matt Garzas madness

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The method to Matt Garzas madness

The silence bothered Matt Garza as he looked out across the Cubs clubhouse. It was mostly empty, except for the reporters three or four deep waiting by Kerry Woods locker.

(Bleep) guys, its Game 1, Garza said, raising his voice. Its like a (bleeping) morgue."

So Garza climbed onto a chair late Thursday afternoon and turned on the stereo. Music is only supposed to be played after wins, but Bob Marleys voice filled the room. This drew smirks from at least two teammates.

It was a bizarre scene after an Opening Day loss to the Washington Nationals, with Carlos Marmol firing the seasons first Next question. But Garza loves the noise and enjoys being the center of attention. Ever notice whos up there standing on the top step of the dugout?

After another winter in which his name was all over the trade rumors, Garza will get the ball on Saturday at Wrigley Field. Near the end of spring training, he was asked if these past few months have changed what the Cubs think of him long-term, or if he had a sense of what the front office is thinking.

Ive never worried about that, Garza said. Im comfortable in my skin. Im going to adapt to what I have to (in order) to be successful and thats just who I am. Im not going to go out there and go out of my way. Its not an insult or anything. Its just that I pride myself on what I do.

This is who I am. This is what youre going to get, every day, day in and day out.

More than once in Arizona, general manager Jed Hoyer said that the Cubs planned to discuss a contract extension with Garzas agent, though its unclear how those talks progressed.

One data point figured to be the five-year, 65 million extension the White Sox gave left-hander John Danks last December. Then this week Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants agreed to a five-year extension worth a reported 112.5 million.

This is not an exact comparison. Cain is 27 and could have become a free agent after this season. Garza is 28 and remains under club control through 2013. And these statistics can be misleading. But check out the career numbers: 69-73, 3.35 ERA (Cain); and 52-54, 3.83 ERA (Garza).

Thats great for him, Garza said. He deserves it, every penny. Hes been one hell of a pitcher for the last five, six seasons. Thats awesome for young guys like myself. That means a lot, but different people sign for different things.

I dont see myself worrying about that. My job is to get ready for Saturday, and I love my job.

Clubhouse chemistry is an inexact science. Theo Epstein watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox and win the 2008 ALCS MVP award with the Tampa Bay Rays. The new Cubs president sort of laughed when he described the view up close.

Hes a smarter guy than youd think from across the field and I dont mean that the wrong way, Epstein said. You watch him and how energetic and extroverted and fidgety he can be looking at him from across the field. You get a certain impression about him that maybe hes not sort of always thinking things through. But the reality is hes actually got a method to his madness.

He knows himself really well. He understands the game really well. He knows how to prepare and I think theres a lot more going on upstairs than people give him credit for.

Hes a really good teammate and a really loyal member of the organization, someone who respects the game and people in the game. He cares a lot about winning.

Garza corrected a reporter who figured the pitcher wouldnt care what his agent does the next several months (meaning he wouldnt impose a deadline or let negotiations the Cubs havent acknowledged any talks become a distraction).

I care what he does, Garza said. Dont mistake me, but its more my focus isnt on that. Its on helping this team be successful. (So thats) focusing on what I need to focus on, putting my priorities on family, my job and then the rest of my (extended) family and then business. Thats the last (one). Thats the least of my worries. If I do my job, everything will take care of itself.

So Garza will put on his game face. He likes to pull a hooded sweatshirt over his head and block everything out with headphones. His body language screams: Stay away.

Thats part of the equation, Epstein said. He embraces the competitive aspects of the game and he doesnt try to pretend its just another day. He needs his music and his time to himself. He brings a lot to the table. He walks sort of a fine line. It can be in control and out of control, but that really works for him emotionally.

Garza says hes been like this since Little League, bouncing from baseball to football to soccer to basketball: There were no stops. It was always competing, competing, competing.

If the Cubs are going to contend, theyll need Garza to take another leap forward, but manager Dale Sveum is just focusing on the fundamentals.

Garza would launch rockets on routine throws to first base, finishing last season with seven errors or one more than the rest of his big-league career combined. And his attitude toward hitting in his first season in the National League was pretty much: I get paid to get outs.

Hes taken some big steps the guys pitched in the World Series, Sveum said. His numbers last year were pretty good on a not-so-good team (10-10, 3.32 ERA). We gauge a lot on wins and losses. Well, a lot of times thats the team youre on. Unfortunately, last year the defense wasnt good. (His) own defense wasnt very good (it) maybe cost him two to four wins.

These are things that got to improve. (Just) being able to bunt might keep him in the game to get him one more or two more wins, too. So its important for him to completely get his whole game together, and he knows that. Hes worked his butt off to try and be better in everything.

Garza certainly hasnt lost his edge, but he appears to be more relaxed in his second season on the North Side. He considers himself more of a lead-by-example type, not the guy who will tell teammates what to do. Hes integrated with the clubhouse, and not just because he brings in Popeyes fried chicken.

If there are any misperceptions out there, well, Garzas going to let his pitching do the talking.

Thats fine with me, Garza said. Shoot, whatever works for people to cope with how I am. It doesnt bother me. Im fine with how I am and the way I see myself. Thats the only thing I can deal with and actually worry about. Saturdays my day, and I cant wait to get there.

High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

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High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. Some playoff dreams came to fruition while others crashed and burned. 

Watch tomorrow as the IHSA playoff brackets are revealed tomorrow on NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 10

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Back of the Yards QB Jeremiah Harris

St. Xavier Team of the Week: De La Salle Meteors

Friday's Top 25 Games

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 18, No. 19 Bolingbrook 14 

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 55, Dundee-Crown 14

No. 3 Maine South 56, Niles West 9

No. 4 Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 14

No. 5 Lake Zurich , Mundelein

No. 6 Phillips 53, Clark 0

No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor 50, Sandburg 14

No. 10 Barrington 40, Conant 19

No. 11 Huntley 45, McHenry 7

No. 12 Naperville Central 35, Lake Park 21

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 42, Hinsdale South 14

No. 24 St. Charles North 35, No. 14 Batavia 28

No. 16 Wheaton North 20, Waubonsie Valley 10

No. 17 Crete-Monee 52, Cahokia 8

No. 18 St. Rita 47, Marmion 14

No. 20 Lyons 31, Oak Park-River Forest 14

No. 21 Nazareth 48, Marian Catholic 7

No. 22 Oswego 30, Plainfield Central 0

Mount Carmel 35, No. 23 Providence 34

Other Highlights

Tinley Park 29, Evergreen Park 0

T.F. South 21, Oak Forest 14

Glenbard North 24, Neuqua Valley 14

St. Edward 29, Wheaton Academy 28

Marian Central Catholic 44, St. Patrick 21

Saturday's Top 25 Games

No. 7 Loyola vs. Brother Rice

No. 8 Glenbard West vs. Proviso West

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.