Cubs still trying to answer Garza question

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Cubs still trying to answer Garza question

If you listen closely enough, it sounds like the narrative has shifted for Cubs executives.
Theyve gone from saying We need more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas at the beginning of spring training, to pointing out the unfortunate timing of his elbow injury just before the trade deadline.
Theo Epstein said he only meant that the Cubs didnt get a chance to play it out with Garza. And the president of baseball operations couldnt guarantee that Garza would have been traded anyway.
But coming from a front office that likes to picks its spots, shape the message and throw out blanket no-comments, this seemed like a purpose pitch.
Garza is only 28 years old and under club control through 2013, meaning his timeline could match up to the contending phase in Epsteins rebuilding plan.
But Epstein publicly acknowledged what others around the organization sensed that negotiations with Garzas camp had no momentum.
Everythings still in play, Epstein said Wednesday. We did have talks earlier in the season. They didnt come to fruition. I think when that type of thing happens, you have to be open-minded about moving a player. But certainly theres a time and place to address an extension again.
Between Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, the Cubs just traded away 40 percent of their rotation, and Epstein doesnt see waves of pitching coming through the minor-league system.
The Cubs seem to be right back where they started not sure how to answer the Garza question. Its either cashing him in for multiple prospects or building around him and Jeff Samardzija.
Its too early to say, Epstein said. Well see what our situation looks like and what the market looks like.
A contender can now only get Garza to impact one pennant race, not this season and next. But everyone knows that he can handle the American League East and the bright lights of the postseason.
Garza (5-7, 3.91 ERA) still hasnt put it all together yet, the way Matt Cain has with the San Francisco Giants. Cains reported 127.5 million guarantee over six years reset the market near the end of spring training.
Garza had often been compared to White Sox left-hander John Danks, who got a five-year, 65 million extension last winter and is now preparing for season-ending shoulder surgery.
Maybe theres a deal to be made somewhere in the middle. Garza certainly hasnt priced himself out with a career year, and this could offer security after two seasons on the North Side with questions about his right elbow.
Garza hasnt pitched since July 21 in St. Louis, and he wont start again at the earliest until Aug. 7 in San Diego. The Cubs say the MRI showed just traces of fluid, that it was only cramping and nothing more sinister, not related to the bone contusion in 2011.
Clearly, a healthy Matt Garza would have been a very sought-after player at this deadline, Epstein said. Whether we would have done something or not, its hard to say, but we didnt get a chance to fully explore it.
When a buying teams last data point is seeing a guy walk off a mound holding his elbow, its not the kind of thing they want to act upon.
Whenever Garza returns, he could be pitching for his next contract with the Cubs, or auditioning for a new team. How Epstein responds will say a lot about the direction of this franchise, how soon the Cubs might be buyers again.

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these recent implosions from Cubs pitching staff

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AP

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these recent implosions from Cubs pitching staff

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these single-inning implosions lately.

At least not at the major-league level.

For the third time in the last five Wrigley Field contest, the Cubs pitching staff has allowed at least seven runs in an inning.

This time, it was nine runs before the first out was recorded in the eighth inning of Friday's 11-4 Cardinals victory.

The Cubs actually entered the inning clinging to a 3-2 lead and had their best setup guy — Carl Edwards Jr. — slated to pitch against the top of the Cardinals order.

But after taking out his teammate with a foul ball, Matt Carpenter began the wacky inning with a double off Edwards and the rout was on.

"We had a bad inning pitching," Maddon said after the game. "That's the third time in a week here at this ballpark, if you go back prior to the break. It's a seven, a nine and a 10 in an inning. 

"I've not seen that since rookie ball. That's crazy stuff. I'm saying it straight up: We played good baseball today. We just pitched badly for one inning. Some really good pitchers had a tough time.

"...That's kind of a strange day. We played well and lost because we gave up nine runs in an inning, which is really awkward to watch from the dugout."

Thirty-eight minutes after Edwards threw the first pitch of the inning, the Cubs finally retired the Cardinals and were looking up at an 11-3 score. 

Neither Edwards nor Hector Rondon recorded an out and they combined with Justin Grimm to allow six hits, six walks and nine runs.

Here's how it all went down:

That's the second straight Wrigley Field game that has featured at least nine runs in an inning but a Cubs opponent. Ace Jon Lester surrendered 10 runs in the first inning to the Pittsburgh Pirates on the day before the All-Star Break began.

And the day before that series began, Mike Montgomery and the Cubs gave up seven runs to the Milwaukee Brewers in a rain make-up game at the "Friendly Confines."

"You see it every now and again. Not often," said Jake Arrieta, Friday's starting pitcher who was in line for a win before that wild eighth inning. "You stick around this game long enough and you see some crazy things happen. And really, that was the turning point in the game. 

"A couple guys had a pretty rare outing in the 8th there. You won't see that rarely ever or ever again from those two guys. Just a tough one."

Rondon, who had entered the game having allowed just two runs in his last 13 innings, could do nothing but shake his head in trying to explain it after the game.

"That was a weird, weird inning," Rondon said. "First time I've seen something like that — nine runs with no outs. But it is what it is. They got us today and we'll see tomorrow."

Maddon has seen control issues with his bullpen all year, but still has confidence in the unit as a whole. He knows not to overreact to one game.

However, Maddon did point to the first game coming out of the All-Star Break where Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen squandered an 8-0 lead before Addison Russell's heroics to break the tie for good late in that contest.

"The bullpen has been fabulous," Maddon said. "Twice since the break, they just had tough games."

Rondon and the Cubs relievers won't overreact, either.

A year ago at this time, Rondon was the Cubs' closer and they hadn't yet traded for Aroldis Chapman. So no, one outing won't get him down. 

"Right now, I'm pissed and whatever," he said, "but tomorrow, I'll come in with a different mentality and try to win the game."

With NL Central suddenly bunched up, a reminder it won't all be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for Cubs in second half

With NL Central suddenly bunched up, a reminder it won't all be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for Cubs in second half

So that six-game winning streak was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?

The Cubs’ perfect second half came to a crashing halt Friday in the series opener with the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, an 11-4 drubbing low-lighted by a never-ending eighth inning in which the Cards torched the Cubs’ bullpen for nine runs.

It was a screaming reminder that the second half, even with its 6-0 start, won’t be all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for the defending champs.

One nasty result after a six-game stretch of hot bats and hot pitching shouldn’t send Cubs fans panicking about a falling sky — even though the heavens opened up and poured a gigantic, watery metaphor down on the Friendly Confines after Friday’s bullpen implosion.

But it also looked like an indication that the troubles of a sub-.500 first half might not be totally exorcized from Wrigley Field’s home clubhouse. Not that that’s denting the team’s confidence in any way.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten too high or too low, even throughout some slumps where we weren’t very happy about the way we were playing,” starting pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “I feel like we’ve been able to maintain an even keel and stay focused. While there has been some frustration, that’s just kind of the nature of not playing up to your potential and knowing you’re better than you’re playing. But having said that, we are positive and will remain to be so throughout the near future and stretch of games we have coming up. We look forward to playing some good baseball.”

Most importantly, perhaps, Friday’s result showed that it’s not just the first-place Milwaukee Brewers that the Cubs have to be concerned with in what is suddenly a tight and crowded race in the National League Central.

The Cubs might have gotten within a game of the Brewers, but the Cardinals and the surging Pittsburgh Pirates are right there, too. After Friday’s game on the North Side went final, the four teams were within four games of each other. A Brewers loss Friday night in Philadelphia could make things even closer.

“Baseball’s crazy,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “You’ve seen a lot of races, I’m sure, and this is just the way that this division’s playing out. It’s really competitive between all of us.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Not dissimilarly from that up-and-down first half, Friday’s contest had signs both positive and negative for the team still on a quest to repeat as World Series champions.

Arrieta might’ve been relatively unremarkable, but he only gave up two runs in six innings, bettering numbers that were downright ugly earlier this season and perhaps signaling that his second half will be far more consistent than his first. In four July starts, he’s got a 2.13 ERA after posting ERAs above 4.50 in each of the first three months of the season.

Willson Contreras continued his torrid July with a first-inning home run. He’s batting .363 on the month with five homers and 12 RBIs in 14 games.

But the negatives were gaudier and more directly involved in the result. In addition to the offense going 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine base runners, a bullpen that had been incredibly reliable fell apart in can’t-look-away fashion. Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm combined to allow the first 11 batters of the eighth inning to reach. The first nine of them scored. Five of them walked.

Theo Epstein’s front office likely won’t answer the call of fans on Twitter howling for the team to trade for relief help. There’s no need to do that. Only the seemingly unbeatable Los Angeles Dodgers have a better bullpen ERA in the NL than the Cubs’ 3.51 mark.

“I trust our guys,” Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s nightmarish eighth. “The right guys are out there. C.J. was the right guy for the moment, it didn't play out. Rondon’s been throwing the ball great, but I really put him in a no-win situation. That’s my fault. And finally, Grimmer just had to suck it up.”

Maddon’s not wrong in singing the season-long praises of the three guys who got lit up Friday. But undoubtedly those three relievers provided some evidence that the final two and a half months of the regular season might not feature the Cubs sprinting away from their division-mates.

No, this could be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish. And the Cubs have 26 games remaining against the Brewers, Pirates and Cardinals.

So buckle up.

“That’s what you get when you play these kinds of teams that have a shot to reach the postseason,” Arrieta said. “We’re all within a few games of each other, so in our minds it’s up for grabs, it’s ours to take and we look forward to the opportunity to do so.”