Cubs

Matt Garza keeps waiting for things to turn

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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.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”