No excuses: Cubs cant close deal for Garza

434349.jpg

No excuses: Cubs cant close deal for Garza

Sunday, April 3, 2011Posted: 4:30 PM Updated: 7:45

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head and earphones plugged in, Matt Garza views his job through a very narrow prism: He gets paid to get outs.

Garza isnt in it for the style points, and he promised everyone that he would be ready when the bell rings. He slogged through spring training, complaining about the mound and the Arizona weather. Or, as manager Mike Quade said, No excuses.

Garza answered any doubters with Sundays performance in front of 30,857 fans at Wrigley Field. The Cubs just didnt finish as strong as Garza and couldnt close the deal for him in a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was a game as weird as Garzas final line across seven innings: three runs, zero walks, 12 hits and 12 strikeouts, which were both career highs. It marked the most strikeouts for a pitcher in his Cubs debut since at least 1915.

The day before, you saw Garza on the top step of the dugout, cheering on his teammates like some utility infielder. He does not sit still and isnt afraid of the big stage. Thats why the Cubs gave up the ransom Tampa Bay demanded in their biggest, boldest offseason move.

Adjusting to a new league and a new city, Garza will practice bunting and speak with reporters after each start. But he doesnt care much about hitting or making friends with the media. Hes only 27 and has already been traded twice. He definitely has an edge.

I have to stay focused and stay prepared, Garza said. If I dont have to talk to anybody for two days, thats even better for me.

Garza said he had no doubts not one after putting up a 10.38 ERA in the Cactus League. The Cubs liked his velocity and the way the ball looked coming out of his hand. He went right after the Pirates (1-2), throwing 80 of his 106 pitches for strikes.

He was pretty good today, catcher Geovany Soto said. Hes been doing a good job (of pitching to) his strength and within himself and keeping everything mellow. But you dont want to take anything from the guy.

Garza left with a 4-3 lead and then the Cubs really started to push their luck.

The Cubs (1-2) had already watched a fan spill a drink onto outfielder Garrett Jones during Carlos Penas two-run double off the right-field wall in the fourth inning.
Kerry Wood loaded the bases in the eighth before Jose Tabata flew out to right field. Tyler Colvin made a perfect throw to the plate and Soto smacked Jason Jaramillo in the face for the tag and inning-ending double play.

It unraveled in the ninth inning. Carlos Marmol walked the first batter he faced and blew the save even though only one ball got out of the infield. The Cubs got the potential tying run to third, but the game ended as Marlon Byrd grounded into a double play.

In the end, the Cubs lost another series to the Pirates, a team with an Opening Day payroll that USA Today calculated to be 45 million, or about 90 million less than what theyre spending on the North Side.

The Cubs went 5-10 against the Pirates last season and need to take advantage of what looks like an easier early schedule in 2011. This was an opportunity missed. The only positive spin was that Garza looked more like the 2008 ALCS MVP.

Ive seen Matt at his best and today he was awesome, said Pena, who played with Garza in Tampa Bay. He gave us a shot. I was just disappointed we couldnt deliver (the win).

Now its time for Garza to tunnel back into the routine hes developed between starts.

I get in a zone, he said. I really dont let a lot of things bother me.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon. 

“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.

“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.

“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”

[MORE CUBS: The 'friendly rivalry' between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman]

Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.

“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”

For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.

“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.

“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.

“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”

The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers

The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers

LOS ANGELES – A man stepped to the microphone during a Q&A session at Cubs Convention and called Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman “the two boy geniuses.” The fan told Epstein how his friends used to call the Dodgers baseball boss “your Mini-Me,” asking about their personal rivalry and if beating L.A. in the playoffs had any extra meaning.

“We have a friendly rivalry,” Epstein told a packed hotel ballroom in downtown Chicago in January. “First off, didn’t he interview for an internship with us and we turned him down way back in the day?

“And then like nine months later, he was GM of the Rays. When he was with Tampa and I was with Boston, we never spoke, because we were in the same division. It was kind of a heated rivalry. We literally never called each other on trades or anything like that.”

But where it’s so difficult for the small-market Rays to keep up with the ultra-rich Red Sox – and replace Friedman’s vision and Joe Maddon’s star power and survive a string of wasted first-round draft picks and find a long-term stadium solution – the Cubs and Dodgers are positioned to be superpowers for years to come.

That’s what makes this Memorial Day weekend showdown at Dodger Stadium so compelling beyond the National League Championship Series rematch. It’s not just upcoming free agent Jake Arrieta returning to the site of his onesie no-hitter on Friday night, a reigning MVP (Kris Bryant) and Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager), two of the best closers on the planet (Wade Davis and Kenley Jansen) and a classic Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw matchup on Sunday afternoon.

The Cubs eliminated the Dodgers less than a month after Epstein finalized a five-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $50 million, likely surpassing Friedman as the game’s highest-paid personnel executive.

“Jed developed a pretty good relationship with him, because I didn’t like talking to him,” Epstein said, referencing GM Jed Hoyer, another Boston transplant on the Cubs Convention panel that day. “But then when I came out here with the Cubs, a different league and everything, I developed a much better relationship with Andrew and we became friends, so now it’s much more of a friendly rivalry.

“I will say that losing to the Dodgers would have been a bitter pill to swallow on a number of fronts, including that one. But they’re developing a powerhouse out there.

“We see them as a team we have to go through each year to get where we want to be.”

[MORE CUBS: Summing up the Cubs' impressive, potentially season-altering homestand]

Backed by Guggenheim Partners’ financial muscle and flush with new TV money, the Dodgers have won four straight division titles and 90-plus games each season while ramping up a farm system that’s now ranked fourth, fifth or sixth by Baseball America, ESPN and MLB.com.

“Everyone’s got their own style and their own approach,” Epstein said. “Ours was more kind of bottom-up (where) they needed to keep it rolling at a high level in the big leagues while retooling their system and nurturing the talent that was already there.

“We had to go out and transact and bring some stuff in. We were at different points of the success cycle. They’ve done a really nice job of winning while kind of establishing something new at the same time.”

The blue-blooded franchise that produced 17 Rookie of the Year winners last month rolled out Cody Bellinger, a 21-year-old, left-handed first baseman with nine homers in his first 28 games in The Show. Julio Urias – who might be the next Fernando Valenzuela – is supposed to be conserving some innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City for another October where the Cubs could be standing in the way of the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988.

“They’ve been producing great young talent for a long period of time,” Epstein said. “If you go back and look at some of the young studs they have in the big leagues that (former scouting director) Logan White and (the previous regime) brought in, some of the guys are still coming.

“They’re stocked and the Dodger tradition runs really deep. With Andrew and his front office, we know they’re going to be dynamic. They’re going to have more resources than anyone. And they’re a big threat to the whole league for a long period of time.”