Ignoring the rumors, Garza open to future with Cubs

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Ignoring the rumors, Garza open to future with Cubs

Matt Garza blocks out all the noise. He plugs headphones into his ears and pulls a hooded sweatshirt so far down it nearly covers his entire face.

There are times in the clubhouse where Garza seems like hes in his own world. Before playoff starts with the Tampa Bay Rays, he tried to think about the game as little as possible.

Thats how Garzas going to approach the trade rumors that are only going to intensify when the industry begins checking into the Hilton Anatole on Sunday in Dallas.

Garza would prefer to remain underground until pitchers and catchers report. Hes immune to the speculation by now: I've gone through it for the last six years of my career.

What Theo Epstein does with Garza will be a window into what he thinks about the Cubs, how long before they can realistically get back into contention.

This front office knows that Garza has guts. He didnt back down in a brutal division. He knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the 2008 ALCS. He delivered seven innings of one-run ball in Game 7 and picked up an MVP award.

I know how to beat 'em, Garza said with a smile. I like the teams I faced there. Hopefully, we can build one here.

Garza stood beneath the Wrigley Field marquee on Saturday night, next to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, for a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony that brought out the Ricketts family and a line of politicians that included Gov. Pat Quinn.

Garza is still a Cub, and the sense is that he probably will remain one unless Epstein gets blown away with an offer for the 28-year-old pitcher. The president of baseball operations has described him as exactly the type of guy that wed like to build around.

Thats awesome. Thats a huge compliment, Garza said. But like I said, I stay out of it until I show up for spring training.

The issue is that Garzas timeline might not match up exactly with Epsteins vision for rebuilding. Garza banked almost 6 million last season, and will be eligible for arbitration the next two years. Hed be ideal for a team that expects to play in October.

The same value wont be there if the Cubs are losing 91 games again. Then again, Epstein said youre going to need your ninth starter at some point during the course of the season. So why trade away your best one?

To this point, Epstein and Garza have only really said hello. They havent sat down for a significant meeting. Epstein mentioned that trades arent the only way to create a long-term asset. You can also do contract extensions.

I'm open to whatever, Garza said. My family lives here, if that's any indication. My family goes everywhere. I just want to play the game. It doesn't bother me where I play. I do love Chicago, but that's the way it goes.

Garzas making Chicago his offseason home, and has enrolled his children in school here. His career record is 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA, but with his raw talent there are reasons to think bigger.

After being traded twice already, Garza certainly understands this is a business. Hes just not particularly interested in the details. He stays in contact with his agent, but otherwise doesnt pay attention to it.

He said it's going to be an active winter meetings, so watch the TV, Garza said. I (told him): Well, Ill be in Italy. I'm going to completely stay out of everything. I'm just going to enjoy my offseason. That's about it.

So Garzas going to Italy on vacation next week. His next destination will say a lot about where the Cubs are heading.

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

The Cubs gave Kyle Schwarber time to sort things out by sending him down to Triple-A Iowa, and Schwarber's first game back in the minors shows he may need some time.

Schwarber's first game with the Iowa Cubs was a forgettable one. He struck out in his first three plate appearances before singling in his last at-bat. He struck out looking in the first inning before striking out swinging his next two times up.

Schwarber batted third in the lineup and played left field. Iowa won 1-0 against the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

He last played for Iowa in 2015, but only spent 17 games there. He hit .333 with three homers and a 1.036 OPS in that short stint. Before getting sent down Schwarber was hitting .171 with the Cubs with 12 home runs, but also 75 strikeouts in 64 games.

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

WASHINGTON – The Cubs already visited the White House. The Washington Nationals are still the team with so much more to prove.

Dusty Baker needs this October to cement his spot in Cooperstown, the way Joe Maddon put the final bullet point on his Hall of Fame resume. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant took different routes out of Las Vegas, but only one has the World Series ring to go with the Rookie of the Year/MVP hardware. While the clock is ticking on Max Scherzer and that championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jon Lester megadeal essentially paid for itself.

Cubs vs. Nationals is supposed to be a circle-your-calendar event. Except the Cubs rolled out a Cactus League lineup on Monday night and Nationals Park featured rows and rows of empty seats amid a crowd of 29,651 where the celebrity vibe became more George Will than A-Rod and J-Lo.

The Cubs still hung on for a 5-4 victory that might have been their best under-the-circumstances win in a season that will hit the halfway point this weekend, showing why they’re the defending champs.

“It is exciting – don’t get me wrong,” Maddon said. “It’s just that we’re attending with a different group than we thought we would be attending this party with.

“And that’s OK, because these guys now are getting the kind of experience that is going to be very beneficial to us in August and September.”

A rash of injuries forced the Cubs to start Jeimer Candelario at third base and Mark Zagunis in right field and Javier Baez kept making highlight-reel plays while Addison Russell rested his sore right shoulder, leaping to grab to a Harper line drive and racing across the left-field line and sliding into the wall to make another spectacular catch in foul territory.

“Games like this is what we need right now – competition,” said Baez, who struck out in his first three at-bats and finished at 2-for-5. “Playing tight games like this will make us make adjustments better and be more in the game.”

With Kyle Schwarber more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines and hitting the reset button at Triple-A Iowa, Willson Contreras became the leadoff hitter of the day and launched Gio Gonzalez’s fifth pitch of the game into the left-field seats.

The young Cubs manufactured their next run in the eighth inning when Baez stole third base and scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s perfectly placed bunt into the no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the first-base line. The bullpen is Washington’s Achilles’ heel and showed with a three-run meltdown in the ninth inning.

Eddie Butler – who began the season in the Iowa rotation – neutralized a powerful Washington lineup while getting just one strikeout in five innings. Maddon pushed a lot of bullpen buttons, not going to Wade Davis for a four-out save and then summoning the All-Star closer when Hector Rondon couldn’t work with a five-run cushion.

In a dramatic finish, Davis survived giving up three hits, a walk and a wild pitch, striking out Ryan Zimmerman with a curveball to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes.

“To play so well and not win that game would have really been awful,” Maddon said.

The Cubs needed this with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looming the next two nights. But for all of their talent and regular-season dominance – three division titles since 2012 and close to a 100-win pace this year – the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series in a city where the Senators once won it all in 1924.

This could be an epic matchup in October, bursting with stars and pumping with bad blood. Just listen to Baker during his pregame media briefing, responding to a question about a power hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff: “I ain’t worried about the Cubs. They can do their thing.”

Or Baker dismissing Maddon’s mind games and the possibility of intentionally walking Harper when Zimmerman is a Triple Crown contender: “It’s a new time and a new day.”

The last word from Maddon, who keeps insisting the 39-37 Cubs have a hot streak in them and that he digs the youth movement: “If this was a spring training lineup, we might get a call.”