The Cubs have been at the epicenter of the trade rumor mill, but manager Dale Sveum is more concerned with the team he is putting out on the field.
Chicago moved to within eight games of the .500 mark with a win in Friday's series opener in Colorado. Sveum would like to see his bullpen and offense step up to vault the club back to respectability.
"[If] the bullpen is more functional, you can do a lot of things," Sveum said. "You got to get guys hot with the bats and get the key hits in situations. Our biggest holdup in the first half was men in scoring position, and obviously the bullpen. So those two things improve, and the starting pitching stays the way it is, you can win a lot more ball games."
All eyes have been on right-hander Matt Garza, who has been linked to a handful of clubs, including the Rangers. Sveum said he had yet to assemble a plan to potentially replace Garza in the rotation. For now, Garza is preparing to pitch Monday for the Cubs.
"When it rains, then it will be real," Garza said Friday. "Right now, it's just rumors. It is what it is. You just keep going about your business."
On Saturday, Carlos Villanueva (2-5, 3.59 ERA) will attempt to build off the performance that Jeff Samardzija submitted Friday. Samardzija held the high-powered Colorado lineup to one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings. In 10 starts this season, Villanueva has compiled a 1-4 record and 3.73 ERA.
He will be opposed by Juan Nicasio (5-4, 4.89 ERA), who is coming off of his strongest outing of the season. On July 12, he limited the surging Dodgers to three hits over seven scoreless frames to outduel Clayton Kershaw.
It was Nicasio's first big league start following a brief demotion to Triple-A.
"It was a clutch performance," said Rockies skipper Walt Weiss. "To shut down a team like that when they are really rolling is very impressive. His fastball was really good, and possibly the best changeup he's had all year."
Cubs: Lake impresses in debut
Junior Lake tallied three hits in four at-bats in his Major League debut Friday. He played center field and batted sixth. Sveum said he expected Lake to play every day until David DeJesus returned from a sprained shoulder.
"While he's here, he's going to play, at least until DeJesus gets back, unless, obviously -- we've seen them before -- a guy who wows you too much to send him back down," Sveum said. "Then you have to make room for him somewhere. The plan now is he'll be here probably until DeJesus gets back and gets healthy."
Rockies: Tulo regains hitting stroke
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki logged two hits Friday, despite still dealing with soreness from a broken rib. Tulowitzki, who started for the National League in Tuesday's All-Star Game, played in three of the Rockies' final four games before the break after missing a month of action. His hits Friday were his first since June 13.
"It's just general soreness, and you deal with soreness throughout the year anyway," said Tulowitzki, who wears thin padding to protect his ribs. "It's not something I haven't dealt with before. Even before the injury, I was in the same situation I'm in now. It was sore.
"I feel good. I wouldn't have played in L.A. or the All-Star Game if I wasn't up for it. No doubt, I'm not going to lie. There's still soreness in the area, but good enough to go out there and play."
• Nicasio has faced the Cubs once in his career. He allowed five runs on eight hits in six innings and sustained the loss.
• The Cubs have won three of the first four meetings between these teams this season.