Dempster overshadows everything else in Cubs' orbit

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Dempster overshadows everything else in Cubs' orbit

You could get whiplash trying to keep up with all the Ryan Dempster drama on Twitter, and how his image appears to have changed for Cubs fans.
Dempster isnt scheduled to throw another live pitch until Tuesday night, or more than four hours after the trade deadline. So that sense of urgency for Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti might not kick in this weekend.
But the trade market isnt going to remain static. The Dodgers could search elsewhere for pitching help. A contender could enter the picture and allow the Cubs to bring Dempster another trade for his approval. The Atlanta Braves might whiff on finding another starter and circle back.
All those scenarios in the run-up to the deadline mean that until this is resolved, it will overshadow everything else around this team, which is exactly what Dempster didnt want to happen.
Remember Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo? The two new faces of the franchise were a spark on Friday, combining for five hits, four RBI and four runs scored, but it wasnt enough on Ron Santo Day.
By the end, St. Louis Cardinals fans were high-fiving each other at Wrigley Field after Fridays 9-6 win over the Cubs. Now back to our regularly scheduled Dempster Watch.
We know its part of the game, manager Dale Sveum said, but I dont care who you are, it gets (old). You want to move on to other questions. Theres no question about it.
With the wind blowing out and facing a Cardinals team (54-46) that has now outscored the Cubs 32-7 in the past week, Travis Wood didnt look like an answer for the post-Dempster rotation.
Wood gave up five homers, including one Yadier Molina put on Waveland Avenue, and tied a club record last set by Carlos Zambrano (the night Big Z packed up all his stuff at Turner Field and told people he was thinking about retirement).
Things didnt go as planned, Wood said. I missed some pitches and they didnt. They ended up hitting them out of the park.
The Dempster negotiations didnt follow the script either. And for all the breathless updates on Twitter, there is still plenty of time for the Cubs (40-58) to try to make a deal.
But once a possible trade to the Braves was leaked through the Atlanta media this week, Dempster didnt want to have to make a decision so publicly while he was weighing family concerns.
After being a model teammate by all accounts for almost nine seasons with the Cubs, Dempster was catching heat from fans and being portrayed as selfish (or worse).
Whether or not that sticks, you could have looked to Dempsters old friend Kerry Wood, who was back at Wrigley Field catching the first pitch from Santos grandson. No. 10 was designed into center field and put on the blue flags on top of the upper deck as part of a day-long tribute to the late, great Hall of Famer.
Wood didnt want to go out in May with the final image being his glove and hat tossed into the stands. Ten days later, Kid K got his perfect ending by striking out the final batter he faced, hugging his young son by the dugout and walking into retirement.
Everyone was over Irrelevant, dude.
Also remember that the reasonable voices usually arent the loudest on social media. If you understand where Dempsters coming from, or respect what hes done for the franchise, then you probably dont need to use ALL CAPS and (expletives).
Fortunately for Dempster, hes got the 10-and-5 rights, Sveum said. People dont know whats going on behind the scenes and all the reasons why you accept and why you dont. So its one of those unfortunate things (where people) jump to conclusions.
Hes one of the most class guys youll ever be around (and) obviously very productive when he goes out there every five days. (Its) a tough situation.
Keeping Dempster (2.25 ERA) past the deadline is viewed as an extreme long shot, though the odds seemed to have slightly increased after the Braves deal fell apart.
The new collective bargaining agreement means that to get draft pick compensation for Dempster, the Cubs would have to offer him a one-year deal worth around 12 million at seasons end (and make sure he doesnt take it). The draft choice might be more useful in terms of the extra money that would funnel into the bonus pool, enabling them to go after more players with sign-ability issues.
But the Cubs wouldnt see any value in that until next summer at the earliest (as opposed to immediately getting a prospect or two into the system and working with them into 2013).
And if Dempster somehow stays in a Cubs uniform for the final two-plus months, no one inside the clubhouse is going to complain.
It would be a nice issue if we have him the rest of the year, Sveum said. Were only going to be a better team with him on the field this year. So as far as issues, theres not going to be any.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs again Saturday, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

"Honestly, I would love to be a part of [the playoff roster], as the rest of the guys on the team would love to," Hammel said. "I know there's only a certain amount of spots, so if I'm handed the ball, I'll be ready. That's the way I'm gonna view it.

"Obviously you wanna be a part of something special like that, but I think everybody here has already been a part of something special to get to this point. We're all very proud. We still got eight regular season ballgames left to build some momentum. Whether I'm on the roster or not, I'm still gonna enjoy it."

Hammel was also clearly on the wrong end of some bad luck Saturday, as the four runs he allowed in the first came via a check swing and a couple hits just out of the reach of his fielders. 

Joe Maddon won't put too much stock into one rough start in late September.

"I'm not too worried about a good or bad outing right now. I'm not," he said. "Pretty much, you know who the guy is. You know if the guy's go this stuff going on or if he doesn't. ... The greater body of work matters."

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

After the game, Maddon chose to look on the bright side.

"Our starter had a tough day today; that's it. Otherwise we did some nice things," he said, referencing the solid offensive days from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. "We had chances to score runs - runners on third, less than two outs - and we didn't fulfill that.

"We made their starter throw 115 pitches in five innings; I think that's a positive."

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Lost amid the craziness of Friday's game and David Ross' emotional sendoff was Miguel Montero locking up a spot on the Cubs' postseason roster.

It's not official, of course. 

The Cubs don't have to get their National League Division Series 25-man roster until the morning of Oct. 7, Game 1.

But Montero proved his value to the Cubs, even in an 0-for-3 effort offensively.

The veteran catcher has struggled to find consistency at the plate this season, but his work behind the plate has proven invaluable, especially with reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

Montero helped get Arrieta in rhythm Friday for a dominant performance - 10 strikeouts across seven shutout innings.

It was the first time the two had worked together in a battery since Aug. 12, with Willson Contreras catching Arrieta five times and Ross behind the dish once in that span.

"Quite frankly, I'm not gonna lie - I wanted to see that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted after Friday's game. "Miggy did a great job with him. They were outstanding together."

The proof is in the numbers, too.

With Contreras over those five starts, Arrieta has posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, averaging 6.4 innings per outing.

In the last six starts with Montero behind the plate, Arrieta has a 1.99 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and is averaging 6.78 innings per outing.

Of course, Montero was also Arrieta's primary catcher for the pitcher's other-worldly run to close out last season.

Maddon believes there's a comfort level there between the two and with the Cubs essentially just biding time until the postseason, now was the time to make a change and see how they worked together again instead of worrying about getting Contreras more experience.

If Arrieta can find consistency pitching at that level, it absolutely gives the Cubs a new look alongside 2016 Cy Young contenders Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

"We work well together," Arrieta said. "I work well with Willson and with Rossy, but Miggy and I have worked together for quite a bit of time now throughout the last couple years. He knows the way my stuff works. 

"He has little nuances, little mannerisms that he makes behind the plate that can help me get back on track from time to time and it's nice to have a guy like that who can really pick things out visually and relay a message to me by something small that helps me get back in line."

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Montero admitted he wasn't even focusing on his at-bats throughout Friday's game, instead putting his full attention on getting Arrieta back on track.

It may only be one outing, but it worked, and Montero deserves credit for getting Arrieta to settle down, stop trying to be too perfect and just unleash his ace stuff.

"We have to be a psychologist. That's our job as a catcher," Montero said. "People don't realize that. People think the catcher needs to throw and hit. No, we need to be a psychologist.

"We need to know who we got out on the mound, how to talk to him, how to go about the business, how to explain to him how to do things. I like psychology a lot and he's one of the guys who you need to push him a little bit harder, and that's me.

"I'm gonna push a guy to the limits, 'cause I know I can get a lot more from him. I know who I can get a lot more from."

Maddon didn't tip his hand about who will pair up with Arrieta next start, but the Cubs don't have to make that decision right now. 

However, with a veteran catcher like Montero around who knows how to call a game and has been heralded as one of the best pitch-framers in baseball during his prime, it'd be hard to leave him off the postseason roster.

In October, the Cubs will place a premium on guys who have been there before and can work in rhythm with a veteran-laden pitching staff and in those areas, Montero has a leg up on rookie Contreras.

Montero handled his reduction in playing time gracefully when Contreras was promoted to the big leagues over the summer, but now, the 33-year-old looks to be reemerging for the Cubs as the "big boy" games loom.

"I don't know if I'm gonna catch [Arrieta] again, but I hope he keeps that momentum going, which I think is a good confidence-builder right there," Montero said. "... My main goal [Friday] was just Jake and just to get him out there and get him to throw a good game and build his confidence again.

"I went 0-for-3, but I don't care. I accomplished my goal - which was to get him to throw a good game and he did."