Cubs

Dempster keeps going strong for Cubs

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Dempster keeps going strong for Cubs

Friday, Sept. 17, 2010
10:24 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MIAMI If Carlos Zambrano does retire once his contract expires and assuming the team does not ask him to waive his no-trade clause he will have spent almost half his life in the Cubs organization.

Signed at the age of 16, Zambrano will be only 31 at the end of the 2012 season and his 91.5 million deal. Clearly Zambrano is unique just as his agent Barry Praver apparently tells him.

Mike Quade hadnt heard about Zambranos retirement thoughts late Wednesday night, which he also expressed 15 months earlier. The manager turned to a media-relations staffer Friday afternoon for clarification: Just Z being Z?

Really? Maybe hell take me with him, Quade said. Jesus, lets both go to Venezuela and spend the rest of our lives in Caracas.

Its difficult to see where the Cubs will be in two years.

Ryan Dempster should be nearing the end of his four-year, 52 million contract. And there will be curiosity about Zambranos vesting 19.25 million player option for 2013, which kicks in if: he finishes first or second in the 2011 Cy Young vote; or if he places in the top four of the 2012 Cy Young vote and is healthy when that seasons complete.

If Dempster and Zambrano remain healthy and motivated and if some of the young pitchers hyped by the front office develop quick enough maybe the rebuilding process doesnt have to be that long.

Dempster spent parts of seven seasons in the Florida Marlins organization, but he will be remembered for his time with the Cubs. After Fridays 2-0 victory at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, he has now reached 30-plus starts and at least 200 innings for the third consecutive season.

Its a goal of mine every year, Dempster said of the 200-inning mark. It says that youre staying healthy and youre giving your team a chance to win.

But Im not done yet. I still got a few more starts to go. I want to go out there and finish strong and not settle on that number and keep going.

The Cubs (66-81) are hoping for a carryover effect into 2011 with their young players like Starlin Castro, who committed his 26th error on Friday but later made a spectacular play to end the game. After Carlos Marmol walked two Marlins, the rookie shortstop laid out near the left-field line for a diving catch that secured the win.

I just wanted to finish up on a good note, Castro said through an interpreter.

Quade is aware of individual milestones, and will try to make sure that Castro (.309 average) gets enough plate appearances to appear on the National League leader board. Its unlikely Dempster (14-10, 3.50) will be able to tie his career high of 17 wins. With the Cubs looking at a possible six-man rotation, he will probably receive two more starts.

He can sit back and feel like he did one heck of a job this year, Quade said. Hes not the kind of guy that is going to say something. Thats the other thing I love about him.

As the Cubs lean on more and more pitchers who probably thought theyd spend more time at Triple-A Iowa this season, they will be counting on Dempster to set the tone for the entire staff. Theyd love 400 more innings out of his right arm.

Dempster will be 35 at the end of his 14 million player option for 2012. He has family considerations, and seems like he would be a natural fit for television, but isnt thinking about the end of his career.

Until they tell me to take my uniform off, Dempster said, Ill play as long as I can play. I enjoy doing it, so (thats) the furthest thing from my mind.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs not yet considering ways to get Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras in lineup together

Cubs not yet considering ways to get Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras in lineup together

Offensive production is very much judged in a "what have you done for me lately" manner.

And by that measure, the Cubs offense is just fine and there's no need to tinker.

However, overall, this lineup has weaknesses, including second base (Cubs rank 21st in MLB with .675 OPS from their second basemen) and center field (19th in MLB with .698 OPS). Before the trade deadline hits, it seems apparent Theo Epstein's front office will add another hitter of some sort to augment this offense. 

But what if the Cubs had an in-house solution?

Victor Caratini had another big game Sunday — going 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly RBI and his only out was a 109.1 mph liner to left field — and is now hitting .301 on the season with a .383 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage.

Caratini wasn't initially scheduled to be in the Cubs lineup Sunday, but with Willson Contreras nursing a sore foot, he got the call and continued to do what he's done all year — play very solid defense behind the plate with quality production at the dish. 

Between Caratini's emergence this season and Contreras' huge bounceback year, Cubs catchers are pacing baseball in OPS, average, OBP, SLG, runs and RBI and rank second in homers and hits.

So with Contreras' ability to play the outfield, will the Cubs try to find ways to get both Caratini and Contreras in the starting lineup at the same time in search of more consistent offense?

"We haven't talked about that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Sunday's game. "We have a lot of guys who have to be in the lineup when things are rolling properly. I haven't looked at that right now, honestly."

Maddon conceded that as a switch-hitter, Caratini is still utilized almost exclusively as a left-handed hitter. The second-year player is hitting .556 with a homer and a double from the right side this season, but that's come in only 10 plate appearances.

Maddon also admitted the best way to get both catchers in the lineup at the same time is if there's an injury or a natural day off for a regular player. For example, Contreras played a game in right field in Pittsburgh before the All-Star Break while Caratini started behind the plate with both Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward nursing minor injuries.

Caratini has also drawn some starts at first base over the last couple years when Anthony Rizzo is either ailing or getting a day off. 

But beyond that, it doesn't appear as if we're gonna see Contreras and Caratini as cohorts in the starting lineup on even a semi-regular basis.

"Maybe part of the reason they're both playing so well or Victor's hitting as well as he is or playing as well as he is is based on the amount of usage," Maddon said. "Everybody sees a guy do well and all of a sudden, that immediately indicates he should play more often. Maybe just playing the right amount."

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

The Cubs have made a trademark out of having a strong second half, and after beating the Pirates 8-3 Sunday, they completed the sweep in their first series since the all-star break and look on their way to putting more space in the NL Central between themselves and the other four teams.

But through the first three innings, the Cubs and starter Jose Quintana looked more like they were going to let the third game of this series get away.

Quintana held the Pirates scoreless in the first two innings, but then in the third he gave up three consecutive singles, threw a wild pitch, allowed a sacrifice fly, and gave up a double, undoing the 1-0 lead the Cubs had established in the second inning on Robel Garcia's double.

But the difference in Sunday's game was how Quintana pitched after that. He tossed three more scoreless innings, completing a 90-pitch quality start and even contributed an RBI single in the fourth.

"He always goes out there and he competes. He’s so focused," Kris Bryant said of Quintana after the game. "He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does."

Leading up to Quintana's single, Garcia hit a two-out double and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle opted to walk David Bote to get Quintana to the plate for what seemed like a sure out. Instead, Quintana poked Trevor Williams' four-seam fastball to right field, allowing Garcia to score from second and trim Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2.

Quintana had already thrown a scoreless top of the fourth inning, but he gave two more after his RBI single. The hit was a timely confidence boost.

"Felt great, finally to get the base hit," Quintana said. "So excited."

This was Quintana's fifth career RBI and first since 2017, and it may have helped catapult the rest of the offense. The Cubs would score three more runs in the fifth inning to take the lead, and then added some cushion with another three in the sixth.

"Literally, when Q got that hit, Tony goes, 'homer right here,'" Jason Heyward joked after the game.

It wasn't Quintana who got the home run, but Heyward was the one to give the Cubs the lead with his own two-run homer in the fifth after Victor Caratini's sacrifice fly had scored Bryant to tie the game earlier that inning.

"We have fun with that," Heyward said of Rizzo's joking. "But we pull for them obviously because they’re out there pitching their ass off. They want to keep the game close, and sometimes they need to pick themselves up too."

Quintana's last three innings on the mound kept his team in the game. He started the fourth with a walk to Elias Diaz and then did not allow another baserunner until Corey Dickerson's one-out single in the sixth.

"I kept throwing my pitches and believing in my stuff and waiting for our offense to come back in the game, and they did really well," Quintana said. "Always in my mind was they can take more runs, so I wanted to keep it there and wait for our hitters to get back in the game. They did great work. It’s a really good feeling around us right now."

One of the keys to a strong second half for the Cubs is getting more wins like Sunday's. Bryant said after the game that it's important to get a few wins that you shouldn't, like one when the team is down 3-1 halfway through the game. And especially in the last game of a three-game set where the Cubs had already won the first two. With the series win safely secured, it would be easy to let up and drop the final game, but Quintana's timely hit and good pitching in the second half of his outing helped make the difference.

"As soon as he hits his knock, he pitched really well after that," Joe Maddon said. "He got better after the knock."

Quintana might struggle to live up to the expectations of coming from across town in a trade two years ago that cost two darling prospects, but it's worth noting that the average ERA in the National League is 4.39, and after Sunday's win, Quintana's is down to 4.21. If he's the team's back-of-the-rotation starter, that'll do just fine.

He's very capable of stringing together quality starts and pitching like the team's ace, like he has over his last three outings with three straight quality starts, but there are also stretches like his run from May 26 to June 22 where he lost six starts in a row and his ERA climbed from 3.73 to 4.50.

Either way, if Quintana makes more of his starts like Sunday's, the Cubs are in very good position to continue their yearly trend of winning in the second half of the season.

 

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