Chicago Cubs

Garza shows why hes the future for Cubs

547142.jpg

Garza shows why hes the future for Cubs

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011
Posted: 12:35 a.m. Updated: 1:40 a.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Box score
READ: Will Zambrano, Ramirez follow Ozzie to Miami?

SAN DIEGO Matt Garza isnt the type to look back with regrets or reflect on what got him here. He has difficulty standing still at his locker during an interview that lasts three minutes. He is ready to move on.

Garza a pitcher who made his big-game reputation in October has watched the Tampa Bay Rays storm back this September. His old team heads into Game No. 162 bursting with confidence, tied with the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race.

No hard feelings? Never.

If you get traded to some team in Madagascar, Garza said, then Im going to have a problem. But I dont. As long as I get to play, then Im fine.

Tampa Bay used to be baseballs Siberia. But the Rays have built a machine, a model the Cubs will no doubt study as they search for their next general manager. The Cubs want to be leaner, more efficient, less emotional in their decision-making process.

Garza is fueled by adrenaline. But instead of enjoying the heat of a pennant race, he was stuck in another meaningless game on the second-to-last day of the season. This one didnt follow the pattern: Pitch well, but lose.

Garzas luck turned when Alfonso Soriano launched a late three-run homer that lifted the Cubs to a 6-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night at PETCO Park. So ends an entertaining first season for a guy manager Mike Quade once described as my kind of lunatic.

Theres no doubt that Garza who gave up two runs in seven innings wants the ball. Across his final three starts, he threw 124, 123 and 122 pitches. He accounted for 31 starts and finished with a 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings.

For as tough a season as its been at times, where the hell would we be without him? Quade said. I believe he anchors this staff as we move on, (that) hes capable of much better. I dont think hes a .500 pitcher. I dont think you see that down the road.

Garza seemed like he was on an island in the clubhouse during spring training, a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head and headphones plugged into his ears. He was 27 years old and had already been traded twice.

But there is perception and something closer to reality. Take Garzas record, which settles at 10-10, even though seven times this season he left with the lead and didnt factor into the decision.

Garza definitely seemed to warm up as the season wore on. Teammates get a kick out of his wacky energy. No one seemed more excited about dressing up the rookies in ridiculous outfits and hazing them for Sundays flight from St. Louis to San Diego.

The television cameras found Garza rooting from the top step of the dugout and screaming into his glove after he was taken out of the game.

Everybody loves him, Soriano said. No matter how he pitched, the next day hes there for us cheering and (showing) some emotion to everybody. Hes one of the best in the clubhouse here.

It will take years to complete the audit of this eight-player blockbuster deal with Tampa Bay last winter.

But the Cubs now have a frontline starter who still feels like hes learning how to pitch under team control for the next two seasons. They wont find anyone better or more cost-effective on the market this winter.

If youre a fan still paying attention at this point, then the Cubs (71-90) might seem closer to Madagascar than the playoffs. If they get back there anytime soon, then Garza will almost certainly be a driving force behind it.

Im not happy that were not playing in October, but Im just going to take what I did and let it keep rolling, Garza said. I hope to make it better. (Its) another year under my belt, a couple more lessons learned. (And) for me, I think the skys the limit. Im just going to keep trying to build until I get there.Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

javy_baez.jpg
USA TODAY

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

Javier Baez flicked his bat and watched the ball rocket in the direction of Waveland Avenue, the last of the back-to-back-to-back homers against Cincinnati Reds starter/Cubs trivia answer Scott Feldman.

That quick strike came during a four-homer fourth inning on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the offense looked explosive and the pitching looked combustible in a 13-10 loss that left the Milwaukee Brewers one game out of first place, the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them and the Cubs awaiting a diagnosis on Jon Lester’s lat injury.

“I know the talent we got,” Baez said. “When they come to play a team like us, we know they’re going to come play hard and obviously play good baseball. They’re going to come to compete, and that’s what we got to do.”

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs are 2-2 so far during a 13-game stretch against last-place teams – you know Baez will be in the middle of the action as the No. 8 hitter with 19 homers this season and a power source with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) injured.

This is the starting shortstop until Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) comes off the disabled list and the unique talent you couldn’t take your eyes off during last year’s playoffs.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So I don’t care how big or small the game is, he’s going to play the same way. He’s going to do everything pretty much full gorilla all the time.

“Sometimes, he’s going to make a mistake. And that’s OK, because with certain people – with all of us – you got to take the bad with the good. Everybody wants perfection. He’s going to make some mistakes. But most of the time, he’s going to pull off events.”

The night before against the Reds, Baez led off the ninth inning with a line-drive double and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. Last week, Statcast clocked him at 16.11 seconds for his inside-the-park homer off the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Over the weekend, he launched another home-run ball 463 feet against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

There are so many different ways Baez can help the Cubs win a game at a time when they don’t have anywhere close to the same margin for error that they did during last season’s joyride into the playoffs.

“I know we often talk about the strikeouts or the big swings,” Maddon said. “But look at his two-strike numbers. Look at his OPS (.808). Look at the run production in general (his 55 RBI match Kris Bryant). It’s been outstanding. And you combine that with first-rate defense.

“Now he’s going to make some mistakes. I’ve talked about that. That’s going to go away with just experience. As he gets older, plays more often, he’s going to make less of those routine mistakes. And the game’s going to get really clean and sharp.”

Until then, Baez will keep taking huge swings, making spectacular plays and trying to cut down on the errors (10 in 334 innings at shortstop, or one less than Russell through 729 innings), because he knows what he means to this team.  

“Javy’s very important,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our most athletic players on the team.

“Javy’s got a really big swing, but he’s got a great eye and he handles the bat really well. For as big as his swing is, he still manages to make really good contact. I don’t want him to approach the game any other way than he does right now.”

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

The Cubs may be in some trouble, with the injury bug hitting them at an inopportune time.

First it was Addison Russell (strained right foot), then it was Willson Contreras, arguably the best catcher in baseball and one of the hottest hitters on the planet before going down with a hamstring injury, and now it's Jon Lester who may be on his way to the disabled list after suffering a strained left lat muscle in Thursday's 13-10 loss to Cincinnati.

All of this occurring during a time Joe Maddon's club is looking to pull away from the pack in the National League Central and capture their second straight division crown, which appears to be the only way the North Siders can control their own destiny.

So what should the Cubs do if Lester is sidelined for an extended period of time?

One option could be re-opening trade discussions surrounding Justin Verlander, who cleared revocable waivers in early August. But what would it take to get him, and how much salary would they have to take on for it to happen?

The SportsTalk Live panel weighed in on that possibility in the video above.