Bears

Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation

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Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation

Matt Garza's default setting is blocking out the trade rumors. Between here and the July 31 deadline, his name will be all over the Internet. But the way he's wired, he'd probably be worried if people weren't paying attention.

Garza showed why he could be so coveted in Thursday's 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He was one out away from a complete-game shutout before fielding a groundball and launching the throw into the seats behind first base.

Manager Dale Sveum pulled Garza after 119 pitches and got booed by however many of the 36,311 fans remained at Wrigley Field.

"I'm pissed off at myself," Garza said. "But, man, we played one hell of a game. When we smelled blood, we really went out there and got it."

That killer instinct - Garza apologized for screaming outside the interview room after he was taken out of the game - makes him perfect for October.

If team president Theo Epstein and his crew lives up to the hype, the Cubs will need people who aren't afraid of the big stage.

It might not be six months from now. But Garza will remain under their control through the end of the 2013 season, and both sides have said they'd be open to a long-term contract extension.

Before the game, Epstein said the team's record (now 2-5) will not impact what the Cubs do with Garza.

"Any time you're contemplating significant personnel moves," Epstein said, "you have to look at the organization as a whole and where you're going. One week's worth of performance, let alone one season's worth, doesn't necessarily impact that significantly.

"Some decisions, some issues are best examined up close, from 10 feet away, and some are best examined from 10,000 feet away. That's probably one that falls into the latter. It's sort of a big-picture issue."

Epstein - who said over the winter that most of the Garza trade speculation was media-driven - also made a point to add this: "I'm just responding to your question. I'm not making up proclamations."

Between Garza and Jeff Samardzija - who almost threw his own complete game last Sunday against the Washington Nationals - the Cubs could already have the top of their rotation in place.

"(Samardzija's) been on a mission for a long time now," Epstein said. "From the day I met him, we had a meeting and he talked about wanting to start and told me what he was going to do to prepare and what his daily schedule was going to be like in Arizona.

"(He explained) how he was going to accomplish it and get himself ready and why he was able to do this. He's done nothing but go out and do exactly what he said he would do, which is really impressive, physically, mentally, fundamentally in terms of his preparation.

"He's got the raw components of a top-of-the-rotation starter. Now there's a lot that goes on before that can actually occur. The consistency that you have to develop is the art of it. But I wouldn't put anything past him because he's a very dedicated guy."

Samardzija (1-0, 1.04 ERA) will be tested Friday afternoon opposite Adam Wainwright at Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals will kickoff a weekend-long celebration.

"I don't know if it's tough to watch," Sveum said. "You give anybody respect for winning the World Series. (There's) got to be one team every year that wins it and gets their rings and raises a banner like that. So you give everybody the respect that they deserve. They're the best in the world right now. They're the best team in baseball. They're the world champions.

"You know you're going to be out there. You're going to have to watch it. But, hey, you want other people watching you do it someday, too. It's a fun day. There's no question about it."

Garza (1-0, 1.23 ERA) looks at Samardzija and the increased rotation depth and calls that "the jumping point." They are great talkers, big personalities who bring some swagger into the room. They wouldn't be blinded by the bright lights of October.

"I can't really see in the future," Garza said. "I think if we just play hard until the last out's made, good things are going to happen.

"We got guys who can pitch. It shows you (when) a guy who - (during his) first start in a couple seasons - almost throws a complete game his first time out. We got guys who are hungry and want to throw, so I think we're going to be all right."

Matt Nagy preaches patience with Mitch Trubisky, but comparison to Drew Brees falls short

Matt Nagy preaches patience with Mitch Trubisky, but comparison to Drew Brees falls short

Matt Nagy rattled off a handful of numbers during a press conference Saturday afternoon: One touchdown, nine interceptions, a 53.3 passer rating and a 60 percent completion rate for a quarterback who was four games into his second season with a specific offensive-minded head coach. And Nagy stressed this quarterback, without naming names, is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

Nagy’s point was to offer some optimistic context to Mitch Trubisky’s slow start to Year 2 running his offense. That’s because the quarterback he referenced is Drew Brees. 

“I understand everyone wants it now, now, now, now," Nagy said. "I get it. So I need to make sure that I pull back, I stay patient with our offense and who we are because there’s a lot of evidence out there of this stuff that goes on, where the story’s a really good ending in the end.” 

Brees was awful over the first four games of the 2007 season — Sean Payton’s second year as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints — putting up those aforementioned horrific numbers. While the Saints only managed a disappointing 7-9 season that year, Brees led the league in passing attempts and completions, and threw for 4,423 yards with 28 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a rating of 89.4. The next year, he began his streak of seven consecutive Pro Bowls, during which he led the Saints to a Super Bowl. 

But there are a couple of problems with Nagy’s analogy. First: Brees was an All-Pro in 2006, his first year with Patyon, and had an established track record of success with the San Diego Chargers before landing in New Orleans. 2007 was Brees’ sixth year in the league, too. He not only had experience, but he had prior production. 

Trubisky did have a 95.4 passer rating in 2018, though that’s not a good stat to compare quarterbacks from different eras (Trubisky’s 2018 passer rating would’ve been seventh in 2007; it was 16th last year). Overall, the prior production does not exist for Trubisky in the way it existed for Brees. 

So there’s not really a comparison there. But let’s unpack Nagy’s comments about instant gratification, especially in the face of what Patrick Mahomes is doing with the Chiefs and what Deshaun Watson is doing with the Texans. 

“It doesn’t shock me with Kansas City and what’s going on there with coach (Andy) Reid and Patrick and the rest of those coaching staff and players,” Nagy said. “There’s a lot of good things that are going on there. And then you talk about a guy like Deshaun Watson and what they’re doing down there with Houston. 

"But I remember specifically dealing with all three of those quarterbacks, them talking about wanting to be the best quarterback class ever. But that doesn’t happen in 2-3 years. That doesn’t happen in 2-3 years. They’re all going to have their highs and lows. We need to face that.”

The problem here is teams that draft a quarterback in the first round do need some level of instant gratification. Trubisky’s cap hit in 2019 is about $7.9 million, and rises to a little over $9.2 million in 2020. That’s incredibly cheap, and allows the Bears to make the sort of aggressive moves in free agency they have. 

But the Bears need to figure out if Trubisky can be a long-term “eraser,” the kind of quarterback who’s good enough to life an entire roster when he’s taking up a significant chunk of cap space after earning a massive contract. Brees is one of those guys. So are Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and, when healthy, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton. Mahomes and Watson look capable of being that type of quarterback for years, too.  

But is Matthew Stafford, whose $29.5 million cap hit in 2019 is the largest in the NFL, that guy? Or Derek Carr? Or Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota? 

Every one of those players carries a cap hit of over $20 million in 2019. That’s the cost of doing business with quarterbacks no longer on their rookie contracts (or, in the case if Winston and Mariota, on their fifth-year options). Of Stafford/Carr/Winston/Mariota, can you imagine any of those players leading deep playoff runs? Probably not. 

One of the worst places an NFL team can be stuck is paying an okay-to-good quarterback a ton of money. The Bears are deeply tied to Trubisky, but need to figure out by the end of the 2020 season if he’s worthy of the kind of contract extensions signed by Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, and will be signed by Mahomes and Watson. 

The Bears can, right now, wait for Trubisky to realize the potential they collectively believe he has in him. It’s a lot easier to be patient when your quarterback is making under $10 million on his rookie contract. It’s much more difficult to be patient in that fifth-year option season or during a rich, long-term second contract. 

Two bad games aren’t enough to implode the Bears’ confidence in Trubisky. Four bad games, even at a 2007 Brees-like level, aren’t either. But the Bears will have to make a decision on Trubisky in the next 16 months, and at some point won’t be able to be patient anymore. 

“We know that what we’ve done in the last two games — that’s not what we want to be at all,” Nagy said. “But then there’s patience involved in that and there’s zero panic. So do we want to be better in Week 1 and Week 2? Yes. What are the reasons for that? That’s our job to figure out those solutions. That’s why we have 16 games, is to figure that out.”

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NFC North: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 3

NFC North: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 3

Chicago Bears fans will get to enjoy a stress-free Sunday in Week 3 with the Bears playing Monday night against the Redskins. They'll have an opportunity to do a little advanced scouting of the NFC North, too, with all three division rivals in action Sunday afternoon in games that, unfortunately, may not present the biggest challenge.

The Packers (2-0) face an opponent familiar to the Bears when they welcome the Broncos to Lambeau Field. Green Bay is a heavy favorite (7.5 points) and based on what Denver revealed in Week 2, Aaron Rodgers should be more than capable of scoring enough points to give the Packers' top-tier defense enough of a cushion to beat up on Joe Flacco and the very average Broncos offense. 

The Vikings (1-1) have arguably the easiest game in Week 3 against the Raiders (1-1) at home. Oakland was one of Week 1's surprise winners over the Broncos, but they came back to earth a bit in Week 2's loss to the Chiefs. Expect a rebound performance from Kirk Cousins and the rest of Minnesota's offense. The Vikings are the biggest NFC North favorites of the week; they're projected to win by nine points or more.

The Lions (1-0-1) have the most challenging game of the three as they'll travel to Philadelphia to face the 1-1 Eagles. Detroit was an upset-winner over the Chargers in Week 2 and very easily could be 2-0 had they held onto their lead in Week 1 against the Cardinals, but they simply aren't talented enough to expect much of a fight against Philadelphia, one of the NFC's Super Bowl favorites. The line is pretty close, however. The Eagles are only favored by 4.5 (at home).