Cubs

Cubs dont expect Garza to tone it down

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Cubs dont expect Garza to tone it down

MESA, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano was trying to collect his thoughts when you heard loud beeping noises at the other end of the clubhouse.

The question was about Matt Garzas personality, and pretty soon everyone started giggling. Garza was alone at his locker on Tuesday, laying down beats and singing Im Sexy and I Know It. Soriano had to smile.

Whatever he does, people laugh, because thats him, Soriano said. Its not like hes done something wrong. We love him (the way) he is, because hes not a bad guy. The most important thing is when he pitches, he shows up (to) win."

Garza may not quite be misunderstood, but even he admits he takes some getting used to. Thats why the 28-year-old pitcher has been dropping by the managers office, to acclimate Dale Sveum to life with Garza.

He doesnt know how I am during the game, Garza said, how my reactions are, how heated I get. I want him to be able to see all that. Give me some time, Ill cool off and well chitchat, shoot the crap a little bit. Im just showing him that (at) my competitive level I (still) know how to draw the line.

Life without Garza a possibility that had to be considered while the Cubs dangled him on the trade market this winter would be far less interesting inside what has been a quiet clubhouse.

Garza allowed two runs in two innings during an 11-4 win over the Colorado Rockies. Sveum had to laugh when Garza was by the on-deck circle asking if he and strengthconditioning coordinator Tim Buss could go shirtless while running the warning track after his start.

Its kind of an inside joke, Garza said.

There were two interpretations. Either Garza saw a Rockies pitcher in a tank top, or the day before Ryan Dempster was caught running in a shirt that Sveum compared to a tight Speedo.

Either way, Sveum isnt going to tell Garza to tone it down (something that may have happened last year). The TV cameras will still find Garza yelling from the top step of the dugout.

I have no problem with that, Sveum said. Thats part of the game. You dont restrain that kind of stuff. You dont let it get out of hand (either). David Cone was like that (and) the four days David Cone didnt pitch were probably the most entertaining days of all. Theres nothing wrong with that. Its actually appreciated.

Garza spent a lot of time during last years camp with earphones on or a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head. He was almost an island, the centerpiece to a blockbuster trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. He seems far more comfortable now, to the point where Sveum mentions him as a leader alongside Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood.

Its just me, Garza said. Ive said it over and over and over again: I just like being out there. Its not fun to just sit there for nine innings, three hours, 160 times a year it gets boring. Im very antsy. I dont like sitting still. So why not have fun out there?

So Garza isnt Carlos Zambrano, though that doesnt necessarily mean the Cubs are going to hand him a huge contract extension, which figures to be a discussion sometime this spring.

Hes a huge piece the personality, the work ethic, (and) he cares so much about winning, Sveum said. The example he sets (and) how hard he works and competes on the mound (becomes) a huge asset (for) your organization.

Garza has pitched in the World Series before, and desperately wants to get back to October. He described Sveum as blue collar.

Thats what you need here, Garza said. We work a normal 9-to-5. We dont work 2-to-11. So in order to survive here, you got to be able to get up and put your work in like a blue-collar worker. Thats the way Cubs baseball should be.

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.