MILWAUKEE Theo Epstein generally agrees with the idea that the playoffs are a crapshoot, though hes found that certain things show up more in October, like frontline starting pitching.
As the Cubs president begins this rebuilding project, the national media is just starting to pick up on what people in Chicago and around the team have been saying for weeks: Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija could be a devastating one-two punch.
Neither one is a finished product. But Samardzija was a stopper in front of Sundays sellout crowd at Miller Park, even without his best stuff, and thats all part of the learning curve.
Manager Dale Sveum pushed the right buttons, pinch-hitting for Samardzija in the sixth inning of a tie game. Reed Johnson drilled a ball over the left-field fence and the Cubs started to open it up in an 8-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that avoided the sweep.
Samardzija needed 91 pitches to get through five innings. It wasnt always coming out of his hand right, and he left some balls up. But he still limited the Brewers (15-19) to one run and showed that he understands how to make adjustments.
(Earlier in my career), I probably would have stayed hard and really tried to overpower guys, Samardzija said. I thought I mixed my pitches pretty well there with runners on and didnt give them too many opportunities to square the ball up.
Some will question whether this is for real, but Garza isnt surprised by Samardzijas growth. The former Notre Dame star didnt get the win on Sunday, but hes still 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA.
He pitched his tail off all last year, Garza said. Hes always wanted to be a starter. You put a prize like that in front of a guy like that, hes going to go out and get it.
Shoot, he was an All-American in football, a potential top-15 (NFL) pick. He ended up picking this sport and Im pretty sure hes happy he did. Hes throwing the crap out of the ball. Hes big, strong and can throw hard for nine-plus. Thats a bright future. He just keeps getting better.
Garza is under club control through the end of the 2013 season. Epstein has said that the teams performance wont dictate what the front office will do with him. The Cubs dont have to make any final decisions on a potential contract extension by the July 31 trade deadline.
The Cubs are 14-20 and it will take years before they get to the point Epstein wants as an organization. What about the idea of building through a rotation fronted by Garza and Samardzija?
Sounds scary to me, Garza said.
Garza, who has proven to be a good teammate, also made a point to talk up the rest of the rotation, complimenting, by name, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad. But it will start at the top, and this is where you can look toward the future.
Across his last four starts a span of 26.1 innings Samardzija has given up three earned runs. This season, hes rung up 45 strikeouts in 43.2 innings, against only 14 walks.
Hes good, Johnson said. You can tell by the reactions of the other hitters, and some of the at-bats these good hitters are taking. Hes keeping them off-balance, even though hes throwing 96-97 mph.
Hes not just pumping all fastballs. Hes mixing it up enough for them not to be able to just sit back and tee off. I faced him in spring training and nothings really straight. Hes sinking it and cutting it, throwing splits. He makes it tough on those guys.
Garza eliminated the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and picked up the ALCS MVP hardware for the Tampa Bay Rays. Just ask him what this could do for the Cubs.
Samardzijas the type of guy where he craves the spotlight, and thats what you need in October, Garza said. You need a guy whos not afraid to be out there, a guy who, when the lights are on, (isnt all) deer in the headlights.
You stand around him for minutes and its just confidence oozing out of him. For a guy like that to be in October, thats even more fun to watch. Thats why I cant wait to get there.