Cubs

This season, Cubs will sink or swim with rotation

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This season, Cubs will sink or swim with rotation

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs think they can make it an interesting summer on the North Side, because they will put a credible starting pitcher on the mound 162 times this season. The six-month marathon will prove them right or wrong.

The day after the Cubs announced their starting five Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, Paul Maholm manager Dale Sveum was asked how that compares to the rest of the National League Central.

This division has Cy Young winners in Milwaukee (Zack Greinke) and St. Louis (Chris Carpenter, though his neck issues will be monitored). The Reds added Mat Latos to their stable of young pitching. Depth helped the Brewers win 96 games last season, and the Cardinals will welcome back Adam Wainwright as they defend their World Series title.

Ill stack our starting rotation with anybody, Sveum said Friday. Its a pretty nice rotation if they live up to their capability.

(Thats) throwing strikes, keeping the ball on the ground, making quality pitches. We got five guys that can do that. We got guys who can move the ball (and) make (it) go sideways. Its a nice, rounded-out starting staff (where) everybodys a completely different pitcher.

The Cubs used 10 different starters last season. They finished with the worst ERA in the NL (4.79). They accounted for only 931 23 innings (which ranked 14th). It can only get better, and will have to against a brutal early schedule.

The Cubs will face Washingtons Stephen Strasburg on Opening Day, and wont get a breather until late May? Half of their first 42 games are against the Brewers, Cardinals and Phillies, playoff teams in 2011. The balance isnt much easier.

The Cubs will witness the Ozzie GuillenCarlos Zambrano reality show in Miami. They will see the Reds, a trendy division pick, six times. Theres a homestand featuring the Dodgers and Braves, who combined to win 171 games last season. Throw in a White Sox series that usually creates fireworks and that gets you to May 21.

We got the potential, Dempster said. We got a chance (to) really push each other to do well and get the best out of each other, all five of us. Hopefully, we will be right there with any rotation. But we got to go out there and prove it.

Individually, that means Dempster avoiding the bad start (9.58 ERA through six outings) that helped derail last season. And Garza taking a Cy Young leap forward, showing that hes better than his career record (52-54) and worthy of a huge contract extension.

Samardzija got what he wanted and wont be typecast as a reliever. But for all his velocity, athleticism and newfound confidencematurity, he still has only started five games in the big leagues. He should be motivated.

It left a bad taste in my mouth those first couple years, Samardzija said. I definitely didnt want (to) go through that again. You dont know how many of those opportunities youre going to get to start. Once you become a reliever and if you have success, a lot of times thats where you end up for your career.

I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and jump all over it and really not let that even come to the surface.

The front office has similar faith in Volstad, overlooking his track record 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in almost 600 major-league innings and seeing a first-round talent whos 6-foot-8 and only 25 years old. He could be much more than the guy traded for Big Z.

They made a point to tell me that they were working hard to get me over here during the offseason, Volstad said. Its a good feeling to (know) that they really wanted me. Through the spring, (they were) saying: Its a big year for you. Youre going to help out a lot. It's definitely a confidence boost.

Maholm who had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization finished last season at 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA after being shut down with a shoulder strain. The left-hander doesnt care if hes the No. 5 starter.

Its a competition where youre trying to outpitch the guy the night before, Maholm said. If a guy has a rough start, you start it over and set the tone for the next guy.

On a lot of teams, the fifth guy just kind of goes five innings or whatever. (But) I expect to make all my starts and go 200 innings. Thats my mindset. Thats whats going to push me and thats whats going to get each and every one of us through the season.

The Cubs will also have emergency depth stashed at Triple-A Iowa (Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Casey Coleman) to weather the inevitable injuries. They have to be prepared for the worst, but arent expecting the disaster predicted by all the experts.

The bottom line is when you got starting pitching like we do, Sveum said, I think you can do a lot of things if the other people live up to half their expectations, (if) you catch the ball and youre getting timely hitting.

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

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USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel. 

Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: