Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation

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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."

Prairie Ridge OL Jeff Jenkins commits to Iowa

Prairie Ridge OL Jeff Jenkins commits to Iowa

Prairie Ridge junior offensive linemen recruit Jeff Jenkins (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) made an unofficial Sunday Junior Day visit to the University of Iowa and came away verbally committed to the Hawkeyes.

"I didn't want to wait," Jenkins said. "I knew I wanted to be a Hawkeye when I met the coaches at Iowa and got on campus."

Jenkins, an All-State linemen for the 2016 Class 6A state champion Wolves, received a scholarship offer from Iowa back on Jan. 13. He pointed towards the Hawkeyes history of developing NFL caliber offensive linemen as one of several keys in his early decision.

"Iowa has a great tradition of offensive linemen," Jenkins said. "I was also just really impressed with the coaches at Iowa along with the facilities and everything that they have to offer. I just knew that I couldn't pass up the opportunity at Iowa. I knew it was home."

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

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USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.