Matt Garza quickly became a fan favorite in Chicago for his passionate, fiery personality both on the mound and in the clubhouse. He may have fallen out of favor with the Cubs faithful due to some comments he made in late-April when the North Siders visited Milwaukee.
"It doesn't matter, dude. You play in Chicago," Garza said to Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, who is still without a win this season despite posting the second-lowest ERA in MLB. "I was there and I lost 30 wins in three seasons. So it's not your fault. Just pitch your way out of it."
Those comments raised some eyebrows, considering Garza made just 29 starts over his final year and a half with Chicago before being dealt to Texas in late July. He'll make his homecoming start at Wrigley Field on Saturday when he and the first-place Brewers take on fellow righty Edwin Jackson and the Cubs.
"I don't know, I think he's got a lot of teams that he's played for that he's going to be emotional about," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "I think we're kind of through that. Pitching against them at home helped, and I think Matt is ... a guy that when he gets in that rhythm, he's really good."
As Roenicke mentioned, Garza has already pitched against the Cubs this season. He got the win against Chicago on April 25 in Milwaukee with seven innings of two-run ball. Otherwise, his first six weeks with the Brewers hasn't gone as planned. He has a 4.98 ERA in eight starts, which Roenicke partially attributes to Garza's inability to get in "that rhythm" early in games.
Garza's energetic nature can have quite the positive impact, too. Roenicke described his team as a mostly quiet bunch, and Garza helps keep things fun and lively. His loose personality has been doubly important given the amount of injuries the Brewers have sustained.
"Matt's different," Roenicke said. "He's going to talk and he's going to be loud no matter where he goes, so I don't think there's any break-in period with him, but it's really nice to have him. We need guys that do have some personality -- not that the guys don't have personalities -- but a character, a guy that just is vocal and off the wall, and I like [to have] those guys around."
Signing Garza was a signal to many that the Brewers were serious about contending this season following a disappointing 88-loss season in 2013. Their hot start to '14 has been one of baseball's most intriguing storylines, though it doesn't surprise Cubs manager Rick Renteria.
"They're a good club. They made a nice run a few years ago, and it's basically the same club," Renteria said of the Brewers. "Prince [Fielder] is gone, but Ryan [Braun] is still there. You have Aramis [Ramirez] there, you have some of the original guys like [Carlos] Gomez.
"They're clicking together right now. Their pitching has been doing a nice job and offensively, they've been putting it together. Is it a surprise [they're doing well]? Not necessarily."
Brewers: Gomez's status uncertain for Saturday
Gomez has been battling lower back tightness since Tuesday, when he was consequently removed from the Brewers' game with the Pirates.
Roenicke said Gomez felt "great" on Thursday, but not nearly as good on Friday. He would have had to sit out Friday's game regardless, because he was finishing a three-game suspension for his role in the Gerrit Cole/Pirates scuffle, but his status for Saturday's game is up in the air.
"I'm hoping he's OK," Roenicke said. "Originally when we talked about this … I thought that just the one day was bad, which was the day we took him out of the game. The next day, he wasn't so good, but the day after, like I said, he was really good yesterday.
"He's straight again, walking normal and I thought he'd be fine, and now they tell me it's still there. It's not that it's bad, but it's still there, which I was surprised."
Cubs: Lining 'em up
There is a method to Renteria's lineups. He used Ryan Kalish at the top of the order for a few games to get the outfielder to be more patient. He dropped Starlin Castro earlier this year, and as the shortstop improved, he was moved up to cleanup. And some lineups are based strictly on matchups.
"They're still growing as players and still developing," Renteria said. "Is it happening at the pace we'd like? Probably not. But they are chipping away and they are getting better, and there are a lot of things going on that will help us in the future."
Junior Lake, for example, batted .219 in April, and he was batting .317 (13-for-41) in his last 13 games in May.
"When Junior works the pitcher up in the zone, he has a greater chance of success," Renteria said. "His strikeouts are high, but he's had some games where he's doing some damage."
Renteria is watching the players' approach, which is part of the development.
"They don't have to get four hits a game to play," Renteria said. "They can go 0-for-4 and they'll be in the lineup the next day. As long as they continue to move forward and their approaches look right and they seem to have a grip on what they're doing, we'll put them out there."
• Milwaukee's Francisco Rodriguez picked up career save No. 321 in Friday's win, tying him with Jose Mesa for 15th on the all-time list.
• Brewers starter Kyle Lohse recorded his seventh straight quality start with seven innings of three-run ball in Friday's victory.
• The Brewers are a National League-best 13-5 on the road this season. Last season, the Crew didn't earn its 13th road win until June 19.
• Fifteen of Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney's 18 career home runs have come at Wrigley Field. He hit his second of the season on Friday.
• Castro has six doubles, four homers and 12 RBIs in 19 games since moving to the No. 4 spot in the Cubs' lineup. He's batting .321 as a cleanup hitter this season.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.