No excuses: Cubs cant close deal for Garza

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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 conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

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Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Golden State of mind: Joe Maddon meets Steve Kerr and sees similarities between Cubs and Warriors

Golden State of mind: Joe Maddon meets Steve Kerr and sees similarities between Cubs and Warriors

SAN DIEGO – Wearing a blue T-shirt, jeans and Vans slip-on sneakers, Steve Kerr looked like a believer in the Joe Maddon dress code. The Golden State Warriors coach walked down the dugout steps and into the visiting clubhouse, meeting with the Cubs manager for almost 30 minutes before Tuesday night’s game at Petco Park, a natural connection between two teams that have embraced the target.

Maddon is open to new experiences, and appreciates these opportunities to speak with innovative coaches from other sports. The Padres had shown Kerr, a San Diego resident, on their video board in the middle of Monday night’s game. Kerr also played in Chicago, winning three championship rings on Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and two more with the San Antonio Spurs, before winning another as Golden State’s rookie coach during the 2014-15 season.

“You got a combination of great players and his touch, along with (Luke) Walton,” Maddon said, referencing the interim coach who took over while Kerr recovered from back surgery last season, helping guide the Warriors to an NBA-record 73 wins and earning a head job with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Walton did a great job in his absence, also, which is really unusual, but that also speaks to the quality of the player, too. What that tells me is they built something pretty dynamic culturally.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of freedom within that group, also, to be themselves and play. It’s kind of a loosely based structure that works somehow. Xs and Os – I’m sure there is a lot of that. But when you have individual talent like that – like we do – you don’t want to get in the way too often either. I don’t want to get in their way at all.”

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Of course, those Warriors are also the cautionary tale for Cubs fans watching a team dominate the regular season, only to see LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers win a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.

But when Kevin Durant ditched the Oklahoma City Thunder and joined the team that beat him in the playoffs, the superstar talked up Golden State’s chemistry, culture and vision, sounding a lot like Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder turned down the St. Louis Cardinals and switched sides in their rivalry with the Cubs.

“Believe me, it’s not everywhere,” Maddon said. “You don’t get that everywhere. It doesn’t happen. I’ve been in places where it doesn’t feel that way. Not a lot of fun to go to the yard sometimes. I’m sure it’s not a lot of fun to go to the shootaround in the mornings. But when you develop that, and people actually want to come there – good people want to come to your spot – that’s pretty solid.”