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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."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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.