Blackhawks

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.

Blackhawks select Adam Boqvist with the No. 8 overall pick

Blackhawks select Adam Boqvist with the No. 8 overall pick

DALLAS — For the first time since drafting Patrick Kane first overall in 2007, the Blackhawks owned a top-10 pick in the NHL Draft. There was speculation that Stan Bowman might get aggressive and trade the No. 8 selection for immediate help if a deal made sense.

Instead, the draft couldn't have unfolded more favorably for the Blackhawks, who elected to keep the pick and drafted defenseman Adam Boqvist.

Boqvist is a 5-foot-11, 168-pound right-handed shot blue-liner who's drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson, given his offensive ability.

“You can never have enough D, he moves the puck, he’s very active in the play, very dynamic in a lot of ways," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on the NBCSN broadcast. "He can help our power play down the road, I am looking forward to seeing how he does in the summer and going into camp.

"There’s opportunity here on the back end with our team, and it’s going to be competitive along the way, but certainly you got a guy that can move the puck and get involved offensively, those guys are hard to find.”

He compiled 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) in 25 games for the Brynas J20 squad in the SuperElit league, and added three goals and two assists in three playoff games. But his production dropped off when he moved up to the Swedish Hockey League, where he registered only one assist in 15 games.

As we mentioned in our NHL Draft Profile this week, there are a few concerns about Boqvist.

He's only 17 years old and isn't the best defender, meaning the Blackhawks must be patient with his development. He's also sustained head injuries over the course of his young career, which adds some risk to the equation.

Boqvist joins Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell as the team's top three defensive prospects, all of whom have right-handed shots.

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 'progressing like he normally would'

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 'progressing like he normally would'

Stan Bowman likes where Corey Crawford is at this state of the offseason, he said Friday prior to the NHL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle, Bowman noted that while Crawford hasn't begun doing any on-ice work, that isn't unusual for players this early.

"We’ve been in contact with Corey and I think he’s been progressing like he normally would," Bowman said. "Most guys don’t do a lot of on-ice work the first couple of months of the offseason.

"Typically they get back on the ice sometime in July, some guys don’t skate until August. I think that’s sort of the plan for Corey as we go along here. I would say he’s right on the normal schedule for the offseason and we’ll just see how that goes."

That's good news for the Blackhawks, who sorely missed Crawford a year ago. The three-time Stanley Cup champion appeared in just 28 games, earning a 16-9-2 record and a 2.27 GAA.