Sports Business

Matt Garza keeps waiting for things to turn


Matt Garza keeps waiting for things to turn

MILWAUKEE Matt Garza keeps saying its gonna turn.

Garzas postgame media sessions are cant-miss events. Standing tall in front of his locker, or trapped inside the Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon, he doesnt point fingers.

Garza can be stubborn and cocky. Remember him announcing were right where we need to be after a comeback win last July left the Cubs 17 games under .500?

It was silent inside the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park after Thursdays 4-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Norichika Aoki had hammered Casey Colemans fastball over the right-field fence in the 10th inning, a shot that left the Cubs 19 games under .500 and wondering what was going to happen next.

We knew coming in that this was going to be tough, Garza said. It is what it is. Just keep going, keep playing and keep getting ready.

This could change by the end of July, but on Thursday morning this looked like a sellers market. Eighteen teams were at .500 or above, and could think about the extra wild card. The five teams in the American League East were separated by only four games.

Garza again looked like a frontline guy, allowing two runs in six innings. But Aoki who only had one inside-the-park homer in his first 129 major-league plate appearances hit one off Garza in the fourth inning.

Same old story, manager Dale Sveum said. Were getting great starts. Theyre going six or seven and giving up one or two and coming away with a loss consistently.

Thats kind of the way things are going. You expect (Ryan) Braun or Corey Hart or somebody else to hit two home runs.

Speaking broadly and not about a particular player general manager Jed Hoyer was curious to see what the landscape would look like leading up to July 31.

There is that delicate balance of when to strike, Hoyer said. Striking early, waiting to the deadline, it is a very tricky balance. Thats why you sort of have to have a price, a value in your head.

When its reached you feel like thats the maximum value you have to be willing to act. But it is a tricky thing and, frankly, thats why most deals get made at the end of July, because most people just tend to wait and they figure the price will go up.

Ryan Dempster has no-trade rights, but doesnt sound like hell be an obstructionist. Long-term, Theo Epstein has said the organization is betting for having a leader like Dempster on the pitching staff.

With free agency in sight, how far does this team look from contention?

I dont know, Dempster said. I really dont. I think we just got to focus on trying to win as many ballgames as we can. And its so easy to sit there and look at us at the bottom of the standings and dwell on that.

Or we can just try and get better every day and come to the ballpark and win today. Thats all that matters. Stranger things have happened. Theres been some teams in some bad spots before that have played themselves out of them and youre a lot closer than you realize.

Garza is the litmus test of what you really think about the Cubs, and there may not be an easy answer. He remains under club control through the end of the 2013 season, and Cubs executives know how difficultexpensive it is to acquire potentially elite starting pitching.

Garza has already made his bones in the postseason and earned a reputation as a big-game pitcher, but he has a career losing record and the Cubs havent won a game hes started since April 29.

The Cubs struck out 37 times during this three-game series, have already lost six of seven on this 10-day road trip and couldnt hold the lead after Bryan LaHairs pinch-hit, two-run homer in the eighth inning.

Its kind of black and white, LaHair said. Its not fun to lose. Were losing a lot, but we work so hard. So at the end of the day, if youre going to lose, at least you can look in the mirror and say to yourself: Did I give it my all today?

I really feel like everyone in this clubhouse is doing that and if we keep doing that this year, next year, just the way it keeps going I just think this clubhouse will click.

Garza wont be giving any concessions speeches, but he would be fun to watch in this uniform if things do finally turn. Heres how he broke down the Aoki at-bat, and why his personality might stick in an organization looking to play with a hard edge.

You just tip your cap, Garza said, and next time you face him, you go right back in there and shove it down his throat. Make sure he doesnt like trying to sit and spin on stuff anymore.

The Daily Line: Week 7 Football Picks

NBC Sports Chicago

The Daily Line: Week 7 Football Picks

The Supreme Court opened the door for sports betting legalization with its May ruling that struck down a 1992 law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Sports betting is not yet legal in Illinois, but with football season underway, former Northwestern offensive lineman Eric Olson will take a weekly look at the odds surrounding the action on the field.

YTD record: 21-7 against the spread (11-1 in last 12)

New England Patriots vs. Chicago Bears 10/21 12:00pm CT

Line: Pats -3
Betting Percentages Split: 76% of the tickets on the Pats
The play: Bears +3

Listen here. I am not being a homer. In fact, I am from the Boston area and have been rooting for the Patriots my entire life. This is simply a great spot for the Bears. You have a Patriots team that is coming off the biggest win any team has had this season, beating the seemingly unbeatable Kansas City Chiefs in primetime. On the other side, you have a Bears team that just turned in one of the most disappointing performances of the season, losing outright to the Miami Dolphins and Brock Osweiler as a 7 point favorite. The Pats have been terrible outside of Foxboro and this is probably the best team they have faced on the road thus far this season. Additionally, this line has stayed firm at 3 and has even moved to 2.5 in some places despite the massive bet discrepancy favoring the Pats. What does that tell us? That the Pros are all over the Bears and refuse to move the line despite the public being all over New England. Ride the home town team catching points at Soldier Field.

Buffalo Bills vs Indianapolis Colts 10/7 1:00pm CT

Line: Colts -7
Betting Percentages Split: 55% of tickets on Colts
The play: Bills +7

If you have been reading my column throughout this NFL season you know I love bad NFL games. Go where nobody wants to go, get dirty and pick gross teams. I also have been pretty successful picking my spots betting on the Bills this year and I love going back to the well here. Simply put, the Colts should not be laying 7 points to ANYBODY at this point of the season. Sean McDermott decided to go with Derek Anderson this week and according to reports, this was to the delight of the locker room as they do not have to endure another Peterman Pix-Six Bonanza. I think this could give the Bills a little spark and anything that Anderson has left in the tank will be on display Sunday against the worst defense in the NFL. Circle those wagons, take the Bills and the points.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs 10/21 7:20pm CT

Line: Chiefs -6
Betting Percentages Split: 75% of tickets on the Chiefs
The play: Bengals +6

Good loses are a real thing in the NFL when it comes to betting perception. Not a single person is knocking the Chiefs for their primetime loss to the Pats in Foxboro. I think Vegas could have set this line at a touchdown and the public would still jump all over the Chiefs. What does that tell you? I think this a questions bettors need to ask themselves more often. What it probably tells you is that Vegas values the Bengals more than the general public does and they aren't as bought into the Chiefs hype. Side with the house, fade the public and take a very solid Bengals team getting 6 points playing a Chiefs team having to get up for two straight primetime games.

New York Giants vs. Atlanta Falcons 10/22 7:20pm CT

Line: Falcons -5.5
Betting Percentages Split: 75% of tickets on the Falcons
The play: Giants +5.5

I said that week of 10/7 was my grossest set of picks to date. What happened that week you ask? I went 5-0. Pick your spots and bet bad teams in the NFL. It works. This league does not operate the way you want it to and you have to be willing to make picks that feel ‘off’. Here is another example of that. By any eye test, this makes no sense. The Giants are in the running for the worst team in the NFL and the Falcons, while overall disappointing, still have shown flashes of their talented roster that brought them to Super Bowl two years ago. However, when you move past the surface, you see a matchup that actually really favors the Giants. The Falcons are ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball and the Falcons have one of the worst defenses in the league and will not be able to exploit the Giants porous O-Line like other teams have. I think these matchups are why Vegas set this line so low and why it has even moved in the Giants direction despite heavy public Atlanta action. Hold your nose and bet the G-men. 

Bonus College Game

Mississippi State vs. LSU 10/20 6:00pm CT

Line: LSU -6.5
Betting Percentages Split: 60% of tickets on LSU
The play: Mississippi State +6.5 (get 7 if you can)

LSU is the most overvalued team in the country. They have actually been out-gained in 4 of their 6 wins. That is an ABSURD statistic that just screams regression as the year carries on. Mississippi State has a really, really good defense and should be able to fluster Joe Burrow all day long. The Bulldogs put it to LSU last year and I expect them to show up again. Take Miss State and the points. Sprinkle the moneyline while you’re at it.

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.