Cubs

Ignoring the rumors, Garza open to future with Cubs

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Ignoring the rumors, Garza open to future with Cubs

Matt Garza blocks out all the noise. He plugs headphones into his ears and pulls a hooded sweatshirt so far down it nearly covers his entire face.

There are times in the clubhouse where Garza seems like hes in his own world. Before playoff starts with the Tampa Bay Rays, he tried to think about the game as little as possible.

Thats how Garzas going to approach the trade rumors that are only going to intensify when the industry begins checking into the Hilton Anatole on Sunday in Dallas.

Garza would prefer to remain underground until pitchers and catchers report. Hes immune to the speculation by now: I've gone through it for the last six years of my career.

What Theo Epstein does with Garza will be a window into what he thinks about the Cubs, how long before they can realistically get back into contention.

This front office knows that Garza has guts. He didnt back down in a brutal division. He knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the 2008 ALCS. He delivered seven innings of one-run ball in Game 7 and picked up an MVP award.

I know how to beat 'em, Garza said with a smile. I like the teams I faced there. Hopefully, we can build one here.

Garza stood beneath the Wrigley Field marquee on Saturday night, next to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, for a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony that brought out the Ricketts family and a line of politicians that included Gov. Pat Quinn.

Garza is still a Cub, and the sense is that he probably will remain one unless Epstein gets blown away with an offer for the 28-year-old pitcher. The president of baseball operations has described him as exactly the type of guy that wed like to build around.

Thats awesome. Thats a huge compliment, Garza said. But like I said, I stay out of it until I show up for spring training.

The issue is that Garzas timeline might not match up exactly with Epsteins vision for rebuilding. Garza banked almost 6 million last season, and will be eligible for arbitration the next two years. Hed be ideal for a team that expects to play in October.

The same value wont be there if the Cubs are losing 91 games again. Then again, Epstein said youre going to need your ninth starter at some point during the course of the season. So why trade away your best one?

To this point, Epstein and Garza have only really said hello. They havent sat down for a significant meeting. Epstein mentioned that trades arent the only way to create a long-term asset. You can also do contract extensions.

I'm open to whatever, Garza said. My family lives here, if that's any indication. My family goes everywhere. I just want to play the game. It doesn't bother me where I play. I do love Chicago, but that's the way it goes.

Garzas making Chicago his offseason home, and has enrolled his children in school here. His career record is 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA, but with his raw talent there are reasons to think bigger.

After being traded twice already, Garza certainly understands this is a business. Hes just not particularly interested in the details. He stays in contact with his agent, but otherwise doesnt pay attention to it.

He said it's going to be an active winter meetings, so watch the TV, Garza said. I (told him): Well, Ill be in Italy. I'm going to completely stay out of everything. I'm just going to enjoy my offseason. That's about it.

So Garzas going to Italy on vacation next week. His next destination will say a lot about where the Cubs are heading.

Cubs' Craig Kimbrel rises to the moment in 'sharp' outing against Brewers

Cubs' Craig Kimbrel rises to the moment in 'sharp' outing against Brewers

Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel stuck with what was working. He pounded the strike zone with one high fastball after another against Manny Pina. Kimbrel was rewarded with a strikeout to end the inning.

In the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Friday, Kimbrel pitched a shutout ninth inning to give his team the chance to rally. Instead, the Cubs’ bats went cold. But the stadium lights illuminated Kimbrel’s progress.

“He looked really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I’ve been trying to find a spot for him, and the feedback has been great every time I talk to the pitching guys, and his bullpens and the work he’s put in. I think you saw that tonight. The ball was exploding out of his hand really well. Some bad swings. Looked sharp.”

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It should be noted that the spot Ross found for him was in a one-run game. Kimbrel, who entered the season as the Cubs closer, at least temporarily lost that job after a string of rough outings. The Cubs blamed mechanical issues.

On Friday, Kimbrel didn’t allow a hit with the game on the line.

One of the biggest developments for Kimbrel is that he’s now throwing his curve ball for a strike, therefore not allowing opposing hitters to simply gear up for a fastball.

The third pitch he threw on Friday was a curve ball. Avisail Garcia already had two strikes on him, and then he fouled off a curve at the bottom of the strikezone.  Kimbrel sat him down with a high fastball clocking in at almost 98 mph.

“I don’t think he was far off (all year),” Cubs starting pitcher Alec Mills said, “and I think tonight he started putting a few more things together, fastball up in the zone and some good curve balls. It was good to see, for sure.”

As Kimbrel’s teammate, Mills may not be speaking from a position of objectivity. But he knows pitching, and he said he’s been excited about Kimbrel’s fastball all year.

“Even that first inning in Cincinnati,” Mills said. “The ball was coming out really good. It was electric. It was more like the Craig that I remember from past years.”

The Kimbrel from past years was a seven-time All-Star from 2011 to 2018, the year he won the World Series with the Red Sox.

But from 2017 to 2019, the average speed of Kimbrel’s fastball dropped from 98 mph to 96mph. It has remained right around 96 mph this year. On Friday, Kimbrel was locating it more effectively, while his curve ball helped put batters off balance.

Kimbrel still walked a batter – he stopped short of overpowering. But even against the one batter he walked, Justin Smoak, Kimbrel got ahead in the count early. He threw two curve balls for strikes. The first Smoak watched. The second he whiffed.

One outing isn’t a guarantee that Kimbrel will win back his role as closer. But it does show that the positive feedback Ross is getting translates into games. And that Ross is ready to trust him in close games. 

“I'm still going out there trying to compete,” Kimbrel said earlier this month.

On Saturday, he sure did.

 

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Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

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They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

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