Cubs complete series sweep of Diamondbacks

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Cubs complete series sweep of Diamondbacks

At 5-feet-10 inches and weighing about 190 pounds, Darwin Barney doesnt exactly have the physical stature of a power hitter, even if he wanted to become one.

But thanks to an ongoing workout plan that began in the offseason, Barney has turned body fat into muscle, and hes taking advantage of the extra energy his new physique has provided.

When youre small and skinny, its not going to help anybody, Barney said. Its just one of those things in this game. You look around, these are the best players in the world. You gotta keep up. Having some strength is definitely part of that.

Barney displayed that strength while energizing Wrigley Field with a two-run home run Sunday, giving Matt Garza more than enough runs as the Cubs completed a three-game sweep over Arizona with a 3-1 victory.

Garza (5-7) threw seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts to help the Cubs to their 12th victory in 16 games, and fourth in a row. Chicago also has won a season-high six straight at Wrigley.

Barneys home run, his fourth of the season, came in the second inning and staked Garza to a 3-0 lead. It was Barneys second key extra-base hit in as many days following Saturdays two-out double in Chicagos 4-1 victory.

A lot of his hits have been big this year, whether theyve kept the line moving at just the right time or popping a home run, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes done a great job. Obviously we know what hes done defensively. Like I said before, there is nobody whos been better at second base than he has been.

With one out and Bryan LaHair at second, Barney drove a 1-2 offering from Trevor Cahill into the left-field bleachers. His three RBI in the past two games are Barneys first of July.

Barney said he dropped nearly 20 pounds down to 170 in the first half of last season when his body fat registered at around 14 percent. Now he said hes at 190 with only eight percent body fat.

Losing 20 pounds last year, that was hard on the body, he said. Ive done a decent job of maintaining what I gained this year. I wouldnt say it has anything to do with hitting the ball, hitting home runs, stuff like that. Its just coming to the park feeling energized every day.

As much as Barneys home run helped, it was Garza who made the early lead stick. In his best outing since late April, Garza only allowed two runners past second base and none beyond that.

That allowed him to earn the victory despite the Cubs offense stalling after that early display. It was the 12th time in Garzas 17 starts this season the Cubs scored three or fewer runs for him.

But it didnt matter.

Garza found a groove as the game progressed. After allowing at least one runner in the first five innings, he retired the final seven batters he faced before being pulled to begin the eighth inning.

I felt good today, Garza said. I was able to stay with my mechanics real well. And when I didnt I was able to catch myself and adjust quick. Ive been searching to get back to where I was, and I kind of used the (All-Star) break to reflect and get back to having fun and attacking hitters.

Garza only walked one batter and allowed five hits. He extended his home success by giving up three or fewer runs for the 18th consecutive start at Wrigley. He also extended the stretch of success the Cubs pitching staff is seeing.

In the past five games, the starters have a 1.13 ERA, while the bullpen recorded a 1.50 ERA. Garza said the pitchers are feeding off each others success.

You dont want to be that guy, Garza said. So you just keep going, keep pumping strikes. A lot of things we got beat on was walks. A big part of my game is keeping guys off bases. A lot of my runs are by home run -- and not solo shots. If I want to limit walks that is putting a lot of pressure on myself to make a big pitch.

While the Cubs are on a good run, the reality is it could change any day now as the non-waiver trading deadline approaches. Garza is one of several Cubs players whose name is being attached to trade rumors.

Garza said hes tuning that talk out. Hes got something bigger on his mind.

All we can control is what we do between the lines and how we prepare, he said. Ive got a wife who is due in about 23 days, so the rumor mill can wait.

Wake-up Call: Cubs surge into first place; White Sox continue slide

Wake-up Call: Cubs surge into first place; White Sox continue slide

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

Go behind the scenes with Kendall Gill at The Big 3 in Chicago

33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

This really is becoming Willson Contreras' team.

The dude is absolutely on fire right now and has almost singlehandedly lifted the Cubs back into first place.

Since the All-Star Break, Contreras has crushed four homers and three doubles while driving in 11 runs in just eight games. 

The Cubs have won seven of those games, including Sunday night when Contreras' two-run shot in the sixth inning turned out to be the game-winner that pushed the Cubs into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. (The Cubs also won the only game Contreras hasn't started since the Break.)

In the span of nine games, the Cubs have already erased the 5.5 game deficit they had in the National League Central entering the midseason break.

"He's just playing his butt off, literally, right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everything he's doing is pretty darn good. He plays with enthusiasm, also. You gotta feel that in the stands.

"There's some times he might get over-enthusiastic. I prefer toning people down as opposed to pumping them up all the time. He's doing everything. He's hitting fourth, he's catching, he's handling a really good pitching staff, he's throwing people out, he's blocking the ball really well and he's hitting homers, so God bless him."

Contreras' offense has been amazing, but Maddon credits the young catcher's block on a Wade Davis pitch in the dirt last week in Atlanta with helping to save the season. That play helped ensure a victory by not permitting the tying run to score from third base as the Cubs rattled off six straight wins to start the second half of 2017.

It's at the point now where Maddon cannot rationally find ways to get Contreras out of the lineup, even though the veteran manager is a huge proponent of rest and wants nothing more than to keep his players healthy and playing at a high level late in the season and into the playoffs.

Contreras is like the Energizer Bunny out there, hopping all around behind the plate to block balls, throwing guys out, pumping his chest, screaming obscenities at his first base coach after home runs. He even plays long toss (from the warning track in left-centerfield to about the spot the second baseman normally plays) before games with catching coach Mike Borzello.

The 25-year-old just does not turn down for anything when he's at the ballpark.

So does he ever get weary?

"I do get tired, but when I get home," he said. "When I'm here, I'm never tired. This is my job, this is what I love and you're gonna see me like that all throughout my career."

Contreras credits the Cubs coaching staff with helping him make the mental adjustments that has him in the conversation as one of the best catchers in baseball.

"He's growing up," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's really taking control behind the plate, which is nice. His at-bats just keep getting better and better and it's really fun to watch."

Contreras is on pace for 25 homers and 87 RBI, second only to Kansas City's Salvador Perez in both categories among catchers.

"He definitely has the abilities to be one of the elite catchers," Maddon said. "You gotta consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already. Because he just does everything so well.

"The biggest next hurdle is just — without pulling him in too much — controlling his emotions a tad more without losing that enthusiasm that he has. Really understanding the game and calling the game and working his pitchers. 

"Mike Borzello does a great job with him. He started out this year and wasn't so good — missing his pitches, missing fastballs, fouling stuff off. But he stayed with it and now you see what he's capable of doing. He is really good right now and he's gonna get better."