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.

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.