Cubs

Garza says Cubs aren't 'quitters,' cant worry about the backlash

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Garza says Cubs aren't 'quitters,' cant worry about the backlash

PITTSBURGH Matt Garza prides himself on being a big-game pitcher, someone with enough guts to want the ball in October.

Garzas supposed to be the guy the Cubs count on to shut it down. But he wilted in the 88-degree heat on Sunday at PNC Park, serving up three homers in a 10-4 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Cubs have now lost 12 straight games. They return home on Memorial Day, a traditional mile marker for a six-month season, buried in last place with the worst record (15-32) in the National League.

Even if Cubs fans didnt expect to see team president Theo Epstein riding on a float down Michigan Avenue this October, they also probably didnt expect it to bottom out this quickly.

We just got to play, Garza said afterward. Yeah, we have great fans. They know the game, but we cant play for the fans right now. We have to play for every guy in here. Every guy has to pull on the same side of the rope.

Its going to kind of test our character as a club right now. Were just going to keep grinding it out. No matter what anybody says, we got to keep whats in here tight, not let it break (us) up.

The last time the Cubs lost this many games in a row a franchise-record 14 to start the 1997 season manager Dale Sveum was playing for the Pirates, Alfonso Soriano was playing in Japan and Starlin Castro was seven years old.

The last time the Cubs won a game, The New York Times hadnt yet brought to light Joe Ricketts political activities, which forced the Cubs board of directors into damage-control mode as they try to secure financing for the Wrigley Field renovation.

Kerry Wood hadnt yet held two retirement press conferences, or eloquently explained away Irrelevant, dude by talking about his baseball mortality, replacing the video of him throwing his hat and glove into the stands with the shot of him hugging his son.

Theres a different psychology to it now. Garza made another wild throw after fielding a sacrifice bunt in the first inning. He now has 10 errors in 40 starts for the Cubs. He had committed six errors in 121 games with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.

Moments later, Pedro Alvarez put one in the right-field seats, and the Pirates (23-24) got their first three-run homer this season in Game 47. That felt like game over for a Cubs team that has labored to score runs.

My first job is to keep runs off the board, Garza said. Giving up a three-spot in the first doesnt really help anybody. All it does is just build pressure and make guys have to do stuff and then we get uncomfortable.

Garza also surrendered home runs to Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, and his manager wasnt sure why he was throwing changeups.

He just got beat by pitches he shouldnt be throwing people. He got beat by his fourth-best pitch, Sveum said. Ill have to talk to him again. He had a great fastball today and got in those situations against a couple guys (where) velocity gets em. He decided to throw changeups. Its not exactly protocol, or what the game plan was.

Garza (2-3, 4.22 ERA) is looking for a big contract extension, and you thought this was a lineup he could dominate. Figuring it out will be a central theme for the 2012 Cubs, even if you cant put that on a billboard.

Patience is something that a lot of fans dont have, no matter what you go through, Sveum said. Im a huge football fan, and I dont understand the Oakland Raiders losing every game. Thats just kind of the way it is. They want to win, just like we want to win.

Thats just part of every city, especially any city thats as passionate as (Chicago).

Just win, baby is a little catchier than Progress as an organization isnt linear.

But Epstein isnt Al Davis, and this isnt the NFL. It will take years to rebuild the team at Clark and Addison, which is why the front office is so focused on the upcoming amateur draft.

Until then, there will be long, hot days in Pittsburgh, and maybe a sea of empty green seats at Wrigley Field.

Guys in here dont stop, Garza said. Were not quitters. Its gonna turn. Were gonna keep fighting and were gonna catch a little roll soon.

Kyle Schwarber is breaking glass during batting practice

Kyle Schwarber is breaking glass during batting practice

When someone swings the bat like Kyle Schwarber, it's safe to assume damage will be done to whatever gets in the way of a ball coming off his bat. That was the case Tuesday morning during batting practice prior to the Cubs 7-0 loss to the Brewers, when Schwarber managed to smash a ball into the Budweiser Patio in center field. 

And despite all the glass, nobody was hurt and a lucky Cubs vendor got to take home a souvenir.  

Maybe this is a sign of things to come for Schwarber, who since a hot start to the season, is currently slashing .235/.356/.436 with 13 home runs since May 13th. It's clear the power is still very much there for Schwarber, let's hope we see some more broken windows in Wrigleyville as the Cubs continue their quest to win their third consecutive NL Central title.

Cubs call for action from MLB/umpires as frustration continues to bubble up

Cubs call for action from MLB/umpires as frustration continues to bubble up

It took until the 13th year of Ben Zobrist's major-league career to get thrown out of a game.

His postgame comments Tuesday revealed that the magic words for getting tossed were to tell home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi that his called third strike in the sixth inning was a part of the reason why baseball needs an electronic strike zone.

Joe Maddon was eventually relieved of his duties for the day as well and it marked another tally in the back-and-forth between the Cubs and umpires this season. And, naturally, Zobrist's comments added to the ongoing debate over whether or not MLB should use a strike zone called by computers instead of people.

"That’s a sensitive subject," Ian Happ said prior to Wednesday's game. "I think the umpires have a tough job, and they’re part of the game — they always have been. So I would love for there to be more understanding where if the players are very sure that the guy is missing calls, that he goes back and looks at it."

Happ went on to say his hope would be that umpires were more willing to be open about when they've missed a call, even in hindsight. This does happen on occasion, like when Angel Hernandez admitted that the game-ending called third strike against Anthony Rizzo on Aug. 5 was wrong.

That's all Zobrist is asking for, too.

"When you have good quality at-bats as a hitter and you feel like it's kinda taken away from you, you want some sort of an answer," Zobrist said. "Or you want to be assured that they're gonna go back and make an adjustment and that's what I asked for. It was met with, basically, he didn't want to talk about that. He didn't want me to tell him that."

What players ultimately crave, Happ said, is consistency. When calls fluctuate, it makes the process for hitters especially difficult.

"You can’t expand just because of what an umpire is calling. If it’s that day, and you know there’s one call that he’s missing over and over, you get in a situation where you have to put the ball in play, and then it’s possible," Happ said. "But I think that it’s so dangerous to adjust your zone day-to-day because you lose all feel, all concept of what the actual strike zone is."

The frustration for the Cubs has boiled over a lot recently.

On July 21, Javy Baez was ejected in the fifth inning of the second game of a doubleheader for throwing his bat and helmet to the ground in frustration. This meant that Zobrist, who was supposed to be getting rest that night after playing in the day game, had to come in and finish the game. Maddon was also ejected that day, and afterward both he and Baez expressed their frustration.

Baez said "we're not animals" while sharing his thoughts on the situation, and Maddon made clear that a player like Baez should not, in his opinion, be thrown out of a game for that kind of action. In both cases, the remarks spoke to the need for players to be allowed to be human on the field and express their emotions, even when they're frustration.

When a call is made like the one Tuesday against Zobrist, it changes the tempo for the rest of the hitters in the lineup. It makes their job harder, too.

"That’s one of the most frustrating things in the game because you are so confident in your strike zone, and you work your whole life to build that strike zone," Happ said of Tuesday's strike three call against Zobrist. "It’s really frustrating when you put together a good at bat, you’re grinding, you think you’ve beat the pitcher, and something happens like that to kind of flip the script, especially in that situation."

Hitting is always difficult, and Happ said it makes batters especially aggravated when they feel like they have to contend with an additional variable like spotty balls and strikes calls from behind the plate. 

"We’re the ones who our numbers are dictated by what somebody else does. Hitting is a completely defensive and reactionary thing. The pitcher has control, and we’re adjusting to him. The umpire has control, and we’re adjusting to him," Happ said. "It’s all reacting, so for us to not only be reacting to the guy we’re competing against but also somebody else, that makes it really difficult."

Zobrist is the kind of hitter who should garner respect from umpires around the league, not only because he has never been thrown out and rarely protests a call, but because he is a veteran with the track record to know where a strike call should be. Maddon said Wednesday when he went out to speak to Cuzzi following Zobrist's initial argument, it wasn't in anger. He was mostly surprised that Cuzzi would be in a situation where he had to argue with someone like Zobrist.

"My biggest point was, 'you realize Ben Zobrist is arguing with you right now?' That’s got to be a bad feeling," Maddon said. "I tried to get that across to him, and he could not focus on that thought, he could just focus arguing balls and strikes, which I wasn’t."

These kinds of moments are bound to happen somewhat often given the sheer volume of games played across the league and when they affect players like Zobrist and Rizzo, they can seem especially egregious.

Happ pointed out players are called upon almost daily to answer for their performance, and it is difficult when that is impacted by an added element outside of their control. That's a point Rizzo made, too, in response to Hernandez' call 10 days ago:

"Things like that can't happen and it happened all game," Rizzo said then. "And nothing happens. And I have to answer questions to you guys — why can't you hit? Why are you striking out? Why can't you hit in the clutch in the ninth inning? All these questions. Right there was literally Ball 4."

Happ said he believes umpires need to focus on improvement to reflect the work their player counterparts are doing.

"I think the accountability, and that we’re always trying to get better day-to-day, so I think everybody needs to be trying to get better," Happ said. "Everybody needs to be trying to perfect their craft and there needs to be some kind of measure for how good or bad guys are being."

Maddon said that, despite the frustration of some of the calls this season and yesterday's in particular, he believes that umpiring is actually better than it was 20 or so years ago. 

"Scrutiny was different [back then]. The level of accountability was different. The guys at that time truly did have some juice. And I think it’s a different world right now. It’s better," Maddon said. "I think ours is the best officiated game there is regarding just the pure ability of the umpires combined with the way replay works. There’s no doubt in my mind, we do the best job regarding officiating.

"You’re still going to have your moments like [Tuesday], and that’s going to happen, but I think our level of accountability and the method in place is a good one."