White Sox

Hard work from Garza, Barney pays off in Cubs' victory

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Hard work from Garza, Barney pays off in Cubs' victory

At 5-feet-10 inches and weighing about 190 pounds, Darwin Barney doesnt exactly have the physical stature of a power hitter, even if he wanted to become one.

But thanks to an ongoing workout plan that began in the offseason, Barney has turned body fat into muscle, and hes taking advantage of the extra energy his new physique has provided.

When youre small and skinny, its not going to help anybody, Barney said. Its just one of those things in this game. You look around, these are the best players in the world. You gotta keep up. Having some strength is definitely part of that.

Barney displayed that strength while energizing Wrigley Field with a two-run home run Sunday, giving Matt Garza more than enough runs as the Cubs completed a three-game sweep over Arizona with a 3-1 victory.

Garza (5-7) threw seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts to help the Cubs to their 12th victory in 16 games, and fourth in a row. Chicago also has won a season-high six straight at Wrigley.

Barneys home run, his fourth of the season, came in the second inning and staked Garza to a 3-0 lead. It was Barneys second key extra-base hit in as many days following Saturdays two-out double in Chicagos 4-1 victory.

A lot of his hits have been big this year, whether theyve kept the line moving at just the right time or popping a home run, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes done a great job. Obviously we know what hes done defensively. Like I said before, there is nobody whos been better at second base than he has been.

With one out and Bryan LaHair at second, Barney drove a 1-2 offering from Trevor Cahill into the left-field bleachers. His three RBI in the past two games are Barneys first of July.

Barney said he dropped nearly 20 pounds down to 170 in the first half of last season when his body fat registered at around 14 percent. Now he said hes at 190 with only 8 percent body fat.

Losing 20 pounds last year, that was hard on the body, he said. Ive done a decent job of maintaining what I gained this year. I wouldnt say it has anything to do with hitting the ball, hitting home runs, stuff like that. Its just coming to the park feeling energized every day.

As much as Barneys home run helped, it was Garza who made the early lead stick. In his best outing since late April, Garza only allowed two runners past second base and none beyond that.

That allowed him to earn the victory despite the Cubs offense stalling after that early display. It was the 12th time in Garzas 17 starts this season the Cubs scored three or fewer runs for him.

But it didnt matter.

Garza found a groove as the game progressed. After allowing at least one runner in the first five innings, he retired the final seven batters he faced before being pulled to begin the eighth inning.

I felt good today, Garza said. I was able to stay with my mechanics real well. And when I didnt I was able to catch myself and adjust quick. Ive been searching to get back to where I was, and I kind of used the (All-Star) break to reflect and get back to having fun and attacking hitters.

Garza only walked one batter and allowed five hits. He extended his home success by giving up three or fewer runs for the 18th consecutive start at Wrigley. He also extended the stretch of success the Cubs pitching staff is seeing.

In the past five games, the starters have a 1.13 ERA, while the bullpen recorded a 1.50 ERA. Garza said the pitchers are feeding off each others success.

You dont want to be that guy, Garza said. So you just keep going, keep pumping strikes. A lot of things we got beat on was walks. A big part of my game is keeping guys off bases. A lot of my runs are by home run -- and not solo shots. If I want to limit walks that is putting a lot of pressure on myself to make a big pitch.

While the Cubs are on a good run, the reality is it could change any day now as the nonwaiver trading deadline approaches. Garza is one of several Cubs players whose name is being attached to trade rumors.

Garza said hes tuning that talk out. Hes got something bigger on his mind.

All we can control is what we do between the lines and how we prepare, he said. Ive got a wife who is due in about 23 days, so the rumor mill can wait.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prospect who got away: White Sox fans, read this at your own risk

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USA TODAY

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prospect who got away: White Sox fans, read this at your own risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fernando Tatis, Jr. is one of the brightest future stars in the game. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, one spot behind Eloy Jimenez.

He’s a five-tool shortstop slashing .289/.359/.509 at Double-A San Antonio with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 85 games. He’s bilingual, charismatic, the kind of guy who could be a face of a franchise.

And two years ago, he was property of the White Sox.

That was until they traded Tatis, who was only 17 at the time, to the Padres for James Shields. Tatis had yet to play a single game in the White Sox farm system, so it was tough to predict his future. However, speaking with Tatis before he competed in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday, the trade was definitely a shock to him.

“I was surprised. It was weird. For a kid that young to get traded, I had never heard of it. When they told me that, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” Tatis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

No front office is going to bat 1.000, and when it comes to Tatis, this is a trade the White Sox would love to have back.

But first, more perspective.

In June of 2016, six months before the White Sox started their rebuild, they were 29-26, a game and a half out of first place. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a healthy Carlos Rodon anchoring their rotation, they felt that with the addition of Shields, they could compete for the division.

Unfortunately, perception didn’t meet reality. Shields struggled on the mound with the White Sox in 2016 and 2017. His numbers have improved considerably, and he could return the White Sox another prospect if he’s dealt before the trade deadline. However, it’s unlikely they’ll receive a player with the potential that Tatis has right now.

“(The trade) was about getting a good starter so they could get to the playoffs. I understood. I know this game is a business,” Tatis said.

Before the trade occurred, Tatis looked into his future and saw a day when he’d be the White Sox starting shortstop.

“Yeah, that was my goal when (White Sox director of international scouting) Marco Paddy signed me,” Tatis said. “We talked about it when I started and that was the goal.”

His goal now is to make it to the major leagues with the Padres.

“I’m pretty close. I want to keep working. When they decide to call me up, I’ll be ready.”

As for his former team, he’s impressed with the talent the White Sox have assembled.

“They’re building something special. They have really good prospects. I wish the best for them.”

You can’t help but wonder what the rebuild would look like if Tatis was along for the ride. He’s the one who got away.

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.