Star of the Game –Travis Snider – .578 (WPA)
The Cubs have waited 10 long months for Matt Garza to return and rejuvenate…the offense?! Garza’s 2-out 2-run double in the 2nd inning was the Cubs’ most effective offensive play of the night. It’s not a great sign when most of your offense comes from the pitcher two games in a row.
On the mound, Garza was spectacular. I can’t imagine a better return for a pitcher coming off such a lengthy absence. Seriously, he deserves a shaving cream pie in the face. While he didn’t have amazing control (to be expected from someone in his situation), his stuff was unhittable. He made more than one opponent look foolish at the plate. The Pirates got their first hit in the 5th inning, and that was a weak blooper by Clint Barmes. Garza was going into the game with a strict pitch count of 85-90, so his elevated pitch counts early in the game forced his exit after 5 innings (if you are going to comment to say that Sveum should have left him in longer, please stop now – you’d be incorrect). Perhaps the biggest story for the Cubs up until the trade deadline is going to be Garza’s future. Get ready to hear A LOT about it over the next several weeks (more on that in a minute).
Unfortunately, the game continued past the 5th inning. The wheels fell of the wagon in the 6th as Hector Rondon entered the game…and left with the bases loaded and one out. Subsequently, James Russell was brought in to try to clean-up the mess. I was actually glad to see Sveum go with Russell in that situation – even though it wasn’t late in the game, it was definitely the highest leverage situation of the contest (I leave it up to you, commenter, to decide what it means to say that James Russell is the team’s best reliever). Russell proceeds to walk the unwalkable Pedro Alvarez (to be fair, it was a questionable check-swing call by the third base umpire), scoring the first Pirates’ run. Enter piñata-of-the-moment Shawn Camp, who allowed a grand slam to pinch hitter Travis Snider.
That brings me to my next thought: I really hope there is a Michael Bowden trade looming. I can’t see any other reason why the FO would DFA Bowden to make room for Garza on the roster rather than kicking Camp to the curb. I’m wary of jumping to conclusions based on small sample size, but it’s obvious that Camp is done. This is going to be a real head-scratcher if some sort of deal involving Bowden doesn’t go down.
Of course, the Cubs provided us with their patented fake rally in the ninth. Darwin Barney capped a 4 for 4 night (I know!) with a triple with one out and subsequently scored on a Starlin Castro single to bring the Cubs to within a run. Anthony Rizzo had a chance to be the hero with runners on first and third and two outs, but he struck out after a long at-bat.
(By the way, Barney needs to start sending me a portion of his game checks. He’s had a huge offensive night 100% of the time when I’ve done the recap. So what if this is only my second one?)
Returning to long-term issues, what will the Cubs do with Garza? Assuming he stays healthy and pitches well (and I realize that’s making significant assumptions at this point), there are two primary options: trade him or attempt to extend his contract. Most writers and commentators seem to think that the Cubs will trade him before the trade deadline and receive a decent prospect or two in the process. However, trading Garza isn’t a total no-brainer. He’s still only 29, and the Cubs might be able to sign him to a reasonable contract that would make him a valuable piece in the rotation for the next 3 or 4 years. So, what would you prefer? I know we’re dealing with abstract “players” here, but would you rather trade Garza for a couple of organizational top-ten-ish prospects who could be ready to contribute in a year or two at the earliest, or would you prefer to sign Garza (knowing the risks) for $13-$15 million a year for three or four years to pair with Samardzija at the top of the rotation? I suppose it depends on when you see the Cubs returning to competitiveness (and on who those prospects would actually be). If the Cubs do extend Garza, it may be a sign that they are going to start to “try” to win as early as next season. Complicating matters, if Garza pitches REALLY well for the rest of the season, the Cubs won’t be able to sign him to an extension, because he’d surely want to test free agency. There are many angles to this issue, and there are significant implications to the Cubs, so we’ll be returning to this topic again and again for the next several weeks. I look forward to some great conversations!