Cubs

Dempster, Cubs can't pick up the slack

438408.jpg

Dempster, Cubs can't pick up the slack

Wednesday, April 6, 2011Posted: 4:08 p.m. Updated: 6:15 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
Andrew Cashner walked through the clubhouse late Wednesday afternoon with a T-shirt that had "NO EXCUSES" written across the back.

It was probably just a coincidence - ballplayers always wear those empty motivational slogans on their chest - but it said everything about a team that needs to regroup.

A few hours after the Cubs announced that Cashner and Randy Wells will be placed on the disabled list, they turned to their Opening Day starter, the rotation's anchor.

Ryan Dempster didn't blow away the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cubs committed three errors and their offense still hasn't put together a monster game to give the pitching staff a breather.

The Cubs closed out their opening homestand with a 6-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in front of an announced crowd - 32,272 - that again looked to be much smaller than that. Besides all the empty green seats at Wrigley Field, this will be remembered as a missed opportunity.

The 3-3 Cubs split with the Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates, two last-place teams in 2010, and it won't get any easier without Wells and Cashner.

"Leave the two kids that are hurt out of it," manager Mike Quade said. "Everybody understands that we're going to need contributions from all over the place. ... I don't think people are going to try to do too much or be so disappointed that they're not going to come play.

"We just didn't do enough things well today to win a ballgame. And I don't think it had anything to do with the news we got."

Suddenly that inventory of starters has been cleared out. The Cubs aren't quite as pitching rich anymore. If they're going to compensate by scoring more runs and tightening up defensively, it will have to wait until the weekend in Milwaukee, where Casey Coleman will arrive as reinforcement.

"This is when you find out the depth of your organization," Marlon Byrd. "This is why you have young guys in spring training, getting them ready. We're going to need guys to come up and step in and do their job."

This game pivoted with two outs in the third inning. Byrd charged in and dove at a ball Chris Young lined into center. It skipped past Byrd and slipped out of Alfonso Soriano's hand when he went to retrieve it. Young sprinted all the way home.

"An inch here, an inch there, I catch that ball," Byrd said. "It's zero-zero instead of 2-0 and gives Dempster a little comfort. (But) that's the game of baseball. I'm always going to be aggressive."

Home runs from Soriano and Aramis Ramirez weren't enough, and it seems like the Cubs will have to get used to playing close games. They'll deal with the stress that will put on their pitchers and the bullpen won't be working with wide margins - John Grabow gave up an insurance run in the eighth that looked much bigger than it should.

But when you run any best-case scenarios for the 2011 Cubs, it all comes back to the rotation.

"If you're shell-shocked by what happened," Quade said, "you're not going to be doing this very long. ... You put it behind you. (We) win games with healthy people."

Dempster is now 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA after allowing five runs - four earned - on 10 hits in seven innings.

The injuries reminded you that what Dempster has done across the past three seasons - 98 starts and 622 innings - is so impressive.

Dempster expressed hope that Cashner and Wells won't be out for a long time. But they won't begin a throwing program to build their arm strength back up until - at the absolute earliest - two weeks from now.

Dempster also viewed this is an opportunity for someone else, and he's right. Wells used a May 2009 call-up as the platform to establish himself as a major-league starter. It wouldn't be surprising if Coleman did the same.

But Dempster's first reaction to a question about where the Cubs go from here summed it up for everyone in the room.

"It sucks to lose both those guys," he said.

Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 4: The beginning of the end

cubs_game_4_nlcs_preview_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 4: The beginning of the end

Once again, baseball has proved it's far too wacky to predict.

It's not just the Cubs offense that's been slumping: I've gone 0-for-3 in predictions for each game of the NLCS thus far.

So what's the point in throwing out a prediction again? Based on the last four days, it would be easy to pick the Cubs to lose and that's what I would do, but I've been wrong the first three games, so what do I know?

I never thought the Cubs would get swept in this series. They're too talented, too experienced, too deep to get steamrolled.

But they're also completely worn out and it's showing. The mood in the locker room and the body language on the field is not at all indicative of the same team that showed legendary resiliency last fall.

That's OK. It's understandable. The Cubs have played more games and pitched more innings than any other team in baseball since the start of 2015. 

After all, they are human. 

There is something to be said for a lack of pressure. The Cubs have absolutely nothing to lose right now and they've procastinated all season, playing their best baseball only when they've been backed into a corner.

"Nobody's expecting us to come back except the guys in this room," Kris Bryant said. "I don't know if it's a comforting feeling, but it takes a little pressure off us because nobody expects us to do it."

Bryant also aptly pointed out that if any group can become the second team in baseball history to climb out of an 0-3 hole in a seven-game series, it's the team that ended a 108-year championship drought by erasing a 3-1 deficit in the World Series.

But Bryant said these things without much conviction Tuesday night in the Cubs home clubhouse. 

It looks like these guys left everything in D.C. after that epic Game 5. 

But if I'm wrong again and these Cubs are going to get another entry into the baseball history books, it starts Wednesday night against Alex Wood. Here's the lineup they'll roll with:

1. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
2. Kyle Schwarber - LF
3. Kris Bryant - 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
5. Willson Contreras - C
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Javy Baez - 2B
8. Jon Jay - RF
9. Jake Arrieta - P

Dodgers starter Alex Wood is a pretty neutral pitcher, really good against both right-handers and lefties. So it makes sense that Almora and Schwarber are both in the lineup and atop the order, as they've had the best plate appearances of anybody on the team in this NLCS.

It also makes sense that Jason Heyward is not in the lineup, as his postseason numbers with the Cubs have been downright icky. 

Heyward deserves a ton of credit for his clubhouse leadership, that rain delay speech and incredible defense in the outfield. But he's hitting .109 with a .186 on-base percentage and .156 slugging percentage in 70 postseason plate appearances in a Cubs uniform. That's a .342 OPS.

Barring a curveball with more break than his own, this will be Arrieta's last start in a Cubs uniform, which is maybe the biggest storyline of the game after the whole will-the-Cubs-swept-out-of-the-NLCS-for-the-second-time-in-three-years thing.

When Arrieta started Game 4 of the NLDS, he admitted he couldn't help but take a moment or two to look around Wrigley Field and try to take it all in. This is the place that turned his career around.

Arrieta is also a gigantic reason this Cubs team has played so many games these last three seasons, winning the Cy Young in 2015 and beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in the World Series.

It'll be great to see the reaction from the crowd and his own reaction when he steps out to the mound and whenever it is he walks off the bump to the third base dugout.

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

For the second straight week, Kyle Schwarber halted his postgame media scrum to get something off his chest.

Standing at his locker — the same spot he stood exactly a week prior — the Cubs slugger got about as forceful as he's ever been with the cameras rolling.

Are the Cubs drained right now?

"Never. Nope. Not at all," Schwarber said. "I'll shut you down right there — we're not running out of gas at all."

Really? 

You gotta admire Schwarber's grit. He's got that linebacker/football mentality still locked and loaded in mid-October after a brutal first three games of the NLCS.

But...come on. The Cubs aren't drained? They're not tired or weary or mentally fatigued?

Schwarber says no, but it doesn't look that way on the field. They look like the high point of the season was that epic Game 5 in D.C. It was one of the craziest baseball games ever played, very reminsicent of Game 7 in last year's World Series.

Only one thing: Game 7 was the ultimate last game. They left it all on the field and that was cool because there was no more season left. Last week's wacky contest wasn't the final game of the season. It was just the final game of the FIRST series of the postseason.

So if the Cubs aren't feeling any weariness — emotional, physical, mental or otherwise — they must be superhuman.

Yet Anthony Rizzo — the face of the franchise — backed Schwarber's sentiment.

"I'm 28 years old right now," Rizzo said. "I could run laps around this place right now. I've got a great job for a living to play baseball.

"We have a beautiful life playing baseball. You gotta keep that in perspective. So if you wanna try to get mentally tired, realize what we're doing."

Rizzo talked that talk, but his performance on the field has hit a wall. After his "Respect Me!" moment in Game 3 of the NLDS, Rizzo went hitless in his next 16 at-bats before a harmless single Tuesday night. He then struck out in his final trip to the plate.

Bryzzo's other half — Kris Bryant — actually took the opposite stance of his teammates.

"Yeah, [that Washington series] was pretty draining, I think," Bryant admitted. "Some good games there that I think were pretty taxing for our bullpen and pitchers, too. 

"Kinda expect that around this time of year. The games mean a lot."

It's not surprising to hear those words from Bryant. In fact, it wouldn't even be mildly shocking to hear every player in the clubhouse share the same point of view.

The Cubs played all the way past Halloween last fall, then hit the town, having epic celebrations, going on TV shows, having streets named after them, etc. 

Then, before you know it, there's Cubs Convention again. And shortly after that, pitchers and catchers report. 

From there, the "title defense" season began, featuring a lackluster first half and a second half that took a tremendous amount of energy just to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and get into the postseason.

Oh yeah, and then that series with the Nationals where the Cubs squeaked out a trio of victories by the slimest of margins.

These Cubs have never really had anything resembling a break. 

However, they're now just one game away from getting that rest they so badly need (and deserve).