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June 28, 2013

What You Need to Know

Pandamonium Cools with Coors

by Daniel Rathman


The Thursday Takeaway
With a month and four days left before the trade deadline, teams are beginning to evaluate their positions in the standings to determine whether they intend to buy, sell, or stand pat when the clock ticks down on July 31. Those that expect to add major-league talent are mulling over their most pressing needs and deciding which of the available players they most covet, which would make adequate fallback plans, and which won’t even merit calls to their employers.

The phone lines for Theo Epstein’s office in Chicago are likely to teem, over the next four weeks, with inquiries from general managers shopping for arms. Closer Kevin Gregg, who is enjoying something of a renaissance at the age of 35, could be a popular bullpen target. Scott Feldman, a free-agent pickup during the past winter, has experience pitching out of the rotation and in relief, and could add needed depth to a contender’s staff. Epstein’s most prized chip, though, is Matt Garza, who has bounced back from an early injury to build up considerable value—in trade right now and in free agency come November.

On Thursday, in the rubber match between the Cubs and Brewers at Miller Park, Garza fired seven innings of one-run ball to lead the Cubs to a series-clinching, 7-2 win. The 29-year-old scattered eight hits (seven singles and an RBI double by Logan Schafer), issued a walk, and hit a batter, but he fanned 10 Brewers along the way. Skeptics will point out that Ron Roenicke’s lineup is hardly imposing with Corey Hart out for the season, Ryan Braun on the disabled list, and Carlos Gomez day to day, but the scouts in attendance would have needed to squint hard to come away unimpressed.

As you can see in the above table, from the Brooks Baseball PITCHf/x breakdown of the outing, Garza sat in the 93-94 mph range with his fastball and had a reach-back velocity well over 95 mph. His slider elicited seven whiffs in 24 tries, including a pair of strikeouts (first, second) against Jean Segura, the National League’s fourth-leading hitter entering play on Thursday afternoon. And Garza showed strong control of his curveball, notching a strike on seven of the 10 occasions that he used it.

Garza tossed five goose eggs onto the Miller Park scoreboard before Schafer’s two-bagger plated a run in the bottom of the sixth, and, by then, the Cubs were in the clear. He returned for the seventh inning and surrendered back-to-back singles to open the frame, but recovered quickly and escaped the jam. Garza’s stuff stayed crisp even as his pitch count ticked into triple digits, and his 101st delivery of the afternoon, which coaxed an inning-ending ground out from Segura, was a two-seamer that registered at 94 mph on the gun.

The strong outing was Garza’s third in a row, coming on the heels of an eight-inning, one-run win over the Astros on June 21 and a seven-inning blanking of the Mets on June 16. Garza was lit up for nine runs in the outing that immediately preceded the recent stretch of dominance, hitting the showers after five helpless frames against the Reds, but his ERA, which soared to 6.26 with that dud, has since come down to 3.83.

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