Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation


Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation

Matt Garza's default setting is blocking out the trade rumors. Between here and the July 31 deadline, his name will be all over the Internet. But the way he's wired, he'd probably be worried if people weren't paying attention.

Garza showed why he could be so coveted in Thursday's 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He was one out away from a complete-game shutout before fielding a groundball and launching the throw into the seats behind first base.

Manager Dale Sveum pulled Garza after 119 pitches and got booed by however many of the 36,311 fans remained at Wrigley Field.

"I'm pissed off at myself," Garza said. "But, man, we played one hell of a game. When we smelled blood, we really went out there and got it."

That killer instinct - Garza apologized for screaming outside the interview room after he was taken out of the game - makes him perfect for October.

If team president Theo Epstein and his crew lives up to the hype, the Cubs will need people who aren't afraid of the big stage.

It might not be six months from now. But Garza will remain under their control through the end of the 2013 season, and both sides have said they'd be open to a long-term contract extension.

Before the game, Epstein said the team's record (now 2-5) will not impact what the Cubs do with Garza.

"Any time you're contemplating significant personnel moves," Epstein said, "you have to look at the organization as a whole and where you're going. One week's worth of performance, let alone one season's worth, doesn't necessarily impact that significantly.

"Some decisions, some issues are best examined up close, from 10 feet away, and some are best examined from 10,000 feet away. That's probably one that falls into the latter. It's sort of a big-picture issue."

Epstein - who said over the winter that most of the Garza trade speculation was media-driven - also made a point to add this: "I'm just responding to your question. I'm not making up proclamations."

Between Garza and Jeff Samardzija - who almost threw his own complete game last Sunday against the Washington Nationals - the Cubs could already have the top of their rotation in place.

"(Samardzija's) been on a mission for a long time now," Epstein said. "From the day I met him, we had a meeting and he talked about wanting to start and told me what he was going to do to prepare and what his daily schedule was going to be like in Arizona.

"(He explained) how he was going to accomplish it and get himself ready and why he was able to do this. He's done nothing but go out and do exactly what he said he would do, which is really impressive, physically, mentally, fundamentally in terms of his preparation.

"He's got the raw components of a top-of-the-rotation starter. Now there's a lot that goes on before that can actually occur. The consistency that you have to develop is the art of it. But I wouldn't put anything past him because he's a very dedicated guy."

Samardzija (1-0, 1.04 ERA) will be tested Friday afternoon opposite Adam Wainwright at Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals will kickoff a weekend-long celebration.

"I don't know if it's tough to watch," Sveum said. "You give anybody respect for winning the World Series. (There's) got to be one team every year that wins it and gets their rings and raises a banner like that. So you give everybody the respect that they deserve. They're the best in the world right now. They're the best team in baseball. They're the world champions.

"You know you're going to be out there. You're going to have to watch it. But, hey, you want other people watching you do it someday, too. It's a fun day. There's no question about it."

Garza (1-0, 1.23 ERA) looks at Samardzija and the increased rotation depth and calls that "the jumping point." They are great talkers, big personalities who bring some swagger into the room. They wouldn't be blinded by the bright lights of October.

"I can't really see in the future," Garza said. "I think if we just play hard until the last out's made, good things are going to happen.

"We got guys who can pitch. It shows you (when) a guy who - (during his) first start in a couple seasons - almost throws a complete game his first time out. We got guys who are hungry and want to throw, so I think we're going to be all right."

In Game 1, Jon Lester doesn't quite live up to his World Series reputation: 'We got a long ways to go'

In Game 1, Jon Lester doesn't quite live up to his World Series reputation: 'We got a long ways to go'

CLEVELAND – While the Cubs came into this World Series as the heavy favorites, the team with the global following and baseball’s best roster on paper, Jon Lester understood the challenge ahead. The Cleveland Indians would counter with their own Game 1 ace, a dynamic reliever changing the way we think about bullpens and a future Hall of Fame manager.

That’s how it played out in a 6-0 game that felt a lot closer, Corey Kluber pitching like a Cy Young Award winner, Andrew Miller handling the seventh and eighth innings and Terry Francona improving his record to 9-0 in World Series games.     

Welcome to “Believeland,” where the Fourth Street bars on Tuesday were buzzing more than seven hours before first pitch. That night, LeBron James and the Cavaliers would get their championship rings and watch the banner-raising ceremony at Quicken Loans Arena, just up the street from Progressive Field.

By the first inning – when pitching coach Chris Bosio had to walk out to the mound to talk to Lester – the red video ribbons lining the stadium said: “CLEVELAND AGAINST THE WORLD.” With the bases loaded, Lester had just drilled Brandon Guyer with a pitch, forcing in a second run, a sequence set in motion by walks to Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez’s soft infield single up the third-base line.

It didn’t matter that Lester would eventually settle down and pretty much control this Cleveland lineup. (Except for that rocket Roberto Perez launched off the left-field railing for a solo homer and a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.) Or that the Indians didn’t run all over the bases, with Francisco Lindor going 1-for-2 in stolen bases. (“Whatever, it’s happened all year," Lester said.)

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This is Cleveland’s blueprint for October, maybe its only chance to win its first World Series since 1948.

“It’s always important (to get a lead), no matter what time of year it is,” Lester said. “It makes a manager’s job a lot easier. It makes your job a lot easier. When you give a guy like Kluber – who’s locked in from pitch one – two runs in the first, it makes his job a lot easier. I know the feeling on the other side. You’re just able to attack differently.

“With the bullpens and all that stuff that they’re setting up nowadays, all you got to do is get through six.”

Lester kept it a 3-0 game, but didn’t finish the sixth inning, a rare October night where he didn’t seem to be automatic. Until Tuesday night, he had gone 3-0 in three World Series starts, allowing only one earned run in 21 innings.

Lester won his two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox, overlapping with Francona and Miller at different points. This is why the Cubs gave Lester a $155 million contract, to set the tone on the mound and within the clubhouse.

Near the end of a 103-win regular season – and even after winning the franchise’s first pennant in 71 years – Lester has offered colorful versions of: We haven’t done anything yet.

But Lester – the National League Championship Series co-MVP after putting up a 1.38 ERA against the Los Angeles Dodgers and watching the Cubs win both of those starts – also doesn’t do overreactions to losses.

“We got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “If we win tomorrow, we’re right back in it. Just like LA – everybody counted us out after Game 3. They said we were the worst best team in baseball. We’re here. We’re not giving up.

“I know my guys. I know my team. And I know that nobody in this clubhouse is giving anything up.”

Andrew Miller's outstanding postseason continues with escape to beat Cubs

Andrew Miller's outstanding postseason continues with escape to beat Cubs

CLEVELAND — Andrew Miller added another impressive chapter to an already legendary postseason performance on Tuesday night.

The Cleveland Indians reliever pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh inning to preserve a three-run lead and help his team achieve a 6-0 victory over the Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series in front of 38,091 at Progressive Field.

Despite putting four men on base, Miller added two more scoreless innings to his 2016 playoff résumé. Miller also struck out more three batters, giving him 24 in 13 2/3 innings this postseason, the second most by any reliever in playoff history. Critical to the effort was the strikeout of Cubs veteran David Ross with a checked swing on a 3-2 slider to strand the bases loaded in the seventh.

“You’re just trying to see the ball as long as you can and stay up the middle,” Ross said. “The 3-1, that’s the one that kinda messed me up. It didn’t break as much, so now you’re like ‘OK, let’s protect and just battle.’ ... Looking back at it, I wish I just stood there and not swung at all. If I could rewind. If it were that easy. I wish it was. And then he’d throw one right down the middle and America hates me.”

Ross has had his share of success against Miller before, though it all came when the left-hander was still a struggling starting pitcher. The veteran catcher is 3-for-5 with a walk against Miller in his career. But that wasn’t the reason Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to stay with Ross instead of pinch hit for him with either Jorge Soler or Albert Almora Jr. with two outs in the seventh inning and Miller struggling for the first time all postseason.

With a man on and nobody out, Miller took over for Corey Kluber and walked Kyle Schwarber — only Miller’s third free pass of the postseason. Javy Baez followed with a single to load the bases.

But Miller rebounded quickly and retired Willson Contreras on a fly out to shallow center before he struck out Addison Russell. Based on his experience, Maddon thought Ross was the right man for the spot.

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“I thought David could hit him or David would accept his walk more than the other guys,” Maddon said. “David works good at-bats in that moment. So I felt good about him, actually. I felt better about him.

“I think with Soler coming off the bench or Albert they had less of a chance than David because I thought there was a two-fold opportunity to either get the hit or draw the walk.”

Ross worked the count to his favor quickly as he took a fastball for a ball, and after swinging and missing a slider, took two more balls to get ahead 3-1. But Miller dropped a slider in for a called strike and then turned to it once again, getting Ross to commit just enough for the third strike. The strikeout improved the Indians’ chances of winning by 26.5 percent, up to 94.7, according to

“I was trying to throw a really good one because if he hits it, it goes a long way,” Miller said. “That’s David Ross. I think even he would say, you can pitch to him, but if you throw something in his wheelhouse it’s going to go a long way and do some damage. Fortunate that it worked out. I threw a good one that was in a spot that he went after in the situation.”

Miller struggled again in the eighth inning as he walked Kris Bryant and allowed a Ben Zobrist single with two outs. But Miller — who allowed two hits and two walks for the first time all season in 77 appearances — struck out Kyle Schwarber to strand the pair.

The Indians’ key acquisition before the July 31 trade deadline threw 46 pitches, the most he’s thrown in a game since Sept. 8, 2011, when he was still a starter.

Indians manager Terry Francona wouldn’t commit to whether or not he’d use Miller in Game 2 on Wednesday. Francona cited how Miller bounced back after throwing 40 pitches in a Game 1 victory over Boston in the American League Division Series and would have been ready if needed. But any number of factors could keep Miller from pitching, and Francona is happy to have a 1-0 series lead in his pocket.

“I don’t know,” Francona said. “He was ready to come back and pitch the next night. I just think there’s a lot that can happen.

“But we won tonight. I think when you have a lead, you try to win.”