Cubs

Dempster, Soriano looking on the bright side

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Dempster, Soriano looking on the bright side

ST. LOUIS The Cubs are nearing the quarter mark. Their Opening Day starter doesnt have a win yet. The only established power hitter still hasnt homered.

That doesnt tell the entire story. But the Cubs are hanging around and havent been buried by a brutal early schedule. If you are relentlessly optimistic, like Ryan Dempster and Alfonso Soriano, you believe it all balances out and things will turn around.

The Cubs were pumping the music in the clubhouse after Mondays 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.

Baby steps, Dempster said. We got a win when I started a game.

Theres no chance Dempster (1.74 ERA) would ever complain publicly about the lack of run support. But heres what the Cubs put on the scoreboard in his first five starts this season: one; three; two; one; one. Thats pretty much going to be the trend line with this lineup.

Thats why manager Dale Sveum wont move Soriano down, because theres really no one else to take his place in the middle of the order right now. Soriano came through in the eighth inning with a two-out single to left, which marked his sixth go-ahead RBI this season.

Im happy with what I do for the team, Soriano said. Im not hitting with the power, but I think (part of its) the knee. When the team needs a big hit, Im there. I know that my power is coming sooner or later.

Soriano sat at his locker with his left knee all wrapped up.

One day its good, one day its bad, Soriano said. Like I joke with my teammates, Im a warrior. I want to play every day no matter what.

Im not 25 anymore. I have to play through the pain.

Dempster just turned 35, but hasnt shown his age. By the sixth inning, he had allowed four runs all season and had a four-run lead he immediately gave away.

The Cardinals (20-15) responded with four runs, and thats the way its gone for the staffs leader. Hes now winless in his last 15 starts dating back to Aug. 16 of last season.

I feel bad for him, because hes been so good for the team and hes not getting the win, Soriano said. I hope the next time we score a lot of runs and we can get (it) for him. But hes pitched so good so far.

The Cubs have now won four of seven games against the defending World Series champs.

This is a weakened National League Central. The Cubs, Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers are tied for last place at 15-20. The Cincinnati Reds are the only other team in the division above .500.

We got as good a shot as anybody else, pitcher Matt Garza said. Were (five) back in the division and we played like crap the first three weeks of the season. Were putting it together. Youre going to go through growing pains with youth, and we certainly are.

(Theres) going to be a lot of mistakes, a lot of growing pains, but I think were good enough and mentally strong enough to get through it.

The Cubs have a new dimension on offense with Tony Campana, who stole another base and scored two more runs. Bryan LaHair sent his ninth home run soaring, a two-run shot that traveled 356 feet, just inside the right-field foul pole.

After reaching a breaking point with Carlos Marmol whose meltdown on May 3 in Cincinnati ruined a brilliant Dempster start and cost him the closers job the Cubs have stabilized the ninth inning.

Rafael Dolis threw nine pitches, eight for strikes, and picked up his fourth save, making it all look stress-free.

If you are a Cubs fan, you have to wonder where they could be if they had really capitalized on their lights-out starting pitching, and what might happen if it regresses just a little bit. Dempster never thinks that way.

Were pitching really well, Dempster said. Were playing good defense and were running the bases extremely aggressive and were getting the results because of it. Hopefully, those just keep coming and we keep playing good baseball and climb our way back to .500.

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures of rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a measly seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Just when it appeared like Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was entering his final half-season as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, the last month happened.

Trubisky's play has steadily improved over the last five games and reached what may have been his watermark moment in Week 14 against the Cowboys. He completed 74% of his passes for 244 yards and three passing touchdowns while adding a season-high 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground. It marked the second week in a row that Trubisky's completed over 74% of his passes; he connected on 76% of his throws a week earlier against the Lions.

Trubisky's recent success is a far cry from the mentally broken player he was after the first month of the season. He has his confidence back. In fact, he's playing with more confidence than he's ever shown as a pro. His recent success is a direct and obvious result of his evolution between the ears.

The Bears were circled as a team that was likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason because of how terrible Trubisky looked early in 2019. And there's still a chance that GM Ryan Pace will look to add some healthy competition to the roster, but if Trubisky continues to play well, that competition will be for the backup job. 

It's also worth noting that one of the more appealing quarterback targets this offseason probably won't make it to the open market. Titans starter Ryan Tannehill continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback season and appears destined to sign a long-term extension with Tennessee sooner than later. After Tannehill, the discount quarterback rack includes names like Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota, players who a month ago would've been viewed as marked upgrades over Trubisky.

It doesn't feel like that's the case anymore.

Barring a massive regression from Trubisky over the next three games, it's starting to feel like he's winning back Chicago's confidence one game at a time. 

With all that in mind, here's the updated Bears QB Big Board entering Week 15:

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 12, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 2 (Dec. 3)

2. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 1 (Dec. 3)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 3)

4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 3)

5. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 3)

6. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 3)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

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