Just like that, Cubs cant close it out for Dempster


Just like that, Cubs cant close it out for Dempster

Ryan Dempster walked off the mound to a standing ovation, and really the Cubs couldnt have scripted this any better. Their Opening Day starter had outpitched Stephen Strasburg, and soon the fans would be chanting Kerry! Kerry!

For all the optimism and good headlines the Cubs generated over the winter, it was pretty quiet by the end on Thursday, when you heard fans muttering to themselves as they walked down the ramps toward the exits after a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Kerry Wood stood in front of his locker afterward and cut off a reporter who said you lose a game like this, and people are going to say these are the Cubs.

People or you? Wood said. We got a bunch of new faces in here, a new attitude and 161 left.

Theo Epstein has promised that his front office will be walled off from all the outside noise. But that doesnt mean Opening Day in Chicago wont be covered like its an NFL game.

These are the margins the Cubs will be working with, because of how their roster is constructed, and the way the winds blow into Wrigley Field the first few weeks of the season. They had borrowed against their bullpen last winter, but it still lined up for Wood and Carlos Marmol to get the final four outs.

Dempster was brilliant, taking a one-hitter into the eighth inning before leaving with a runner on and two outs. Manager Dale Sveum didnt get an argument: He actually said something comical: Yeah, thats not a bad move. I think if it was a calm day, (Ryan) Zimmerman would have had 900 feet of home runs.

Wood walked three consecutive batters, each on a 3-2 count, and allowed the game-tying run. He shook his head no when someone asked about his lighter workload in spring training, the idea being the bullets would be saved for the regular season.

Absolutely no excuses. I just didnt get it done, Wood said. Its just frustrating. Im frustrated for him, frustrated for the guys that worked hard today to give us a chance to win.

It had to be frustrating for the 41,176 fans who sat through the cold (41 degrees at first pitch). Marmol got two quick outs in the ninth before ex-Cub Chad Tracy lifted a ball to right field.

David DeJesus the first player Epstein signed last offseason got turned around, starting over his right shoulder before turning left and looking up into the sun. The ball bounced off the wall for a double.

A plus defender, DeJesus wrote it off as a good lesson on how to deal with Wrigley Field. By the time Ian Desmond lined Marmols slider into right, driving in the go-ahead run, Dempsters line (7.2 innings, one run on two hits, 10 strikeouts) was for nothing.

Im always comfortable handing the ball over to Woody, Dempster said. We want to win every game were out there, but especially Opening Day, when youre at home in front of all these great fans. Thats what hurts. When youre playing close games like that, when its 1-0, you realize how fast things can change.

I feel for Woody in that situation, I feel for Carlos, because Ive in both those seats before. Its not a fun feeling and I know theyre probably chomping at the bit to just get this day over with and get the ball back.

Just like that, the narrative shifted from the first victory of a new era, to a reporter asking Marmol about the feeling of dj vu.

You see a lot of new faces in here? Marmol said. Last year is over.

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

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Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CLEVELAND — As the New York Yankees marketed Andrew Miller this summer and prepared for their first sell-off in a generation, their demands started at either Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez — and the Cubs still would have been forced to throw in more talent to get the All-Star reliever.

This could be the fascinating what-if for this World Series. The Cleveland Indians paid the price, giving up a four-player package headlined by outfielder Clint Frazier (the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft) and left-hander Justus Sheffield (the No. 31 pick in the 2014 draft) to get what turned out to be the American League Championship Series MVP.

The Cubs didn’t make Schwarber untouchable because they thought he would be ready in time for the World Series, but he’s preparing to be their Game 1 designated hitter on Tuesday night at Progressive Field after a remarkable recovery from major surgery on his left knee.

“It was impossible to avoid some of the names — particularly the Cubs — (with) the year they were having,” Miller said. “Whether I wanted to avoid it or not I heard it. Guys in the clubhouse, our media was certainly bringing it to us.”

Even in other possible deals for pitching, the Cubs never came close to selling low on Baez, who broke out as the National League Championship Series co-MVP for his offensive production and defensive wizardry. 

Instead of getting Miller’s late-game dominance for three pennant races — and giving up five potential 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with Schwarber — the Cubs closed a different blockbuster deal with the Yankees for a left-handed power arm.

The Cubs wanted Aroldis Chapman’s 100-mph fastball to get the last out of the World Series and would rationalize his 30-game suspension to begin this season under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. Already holding an age-22 All-Star shortstop in Addison Russell, the Cubs surrendered elite prospect Gleyber Torres.

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“Gleyber’s a good baseball player,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That kid’s going to be really good. So you have to give up something to get something. But also our guys felt if we got Aroldis this year, we’d have a chance to be sitting here and answering this question. And they were right.

“It’s an entirely different thing when you get a guy out there throwing 100 miles an hour. You feel pretty good about it, regardless of who is hitting. So he’s really a big part of why we’re doing this right now.”

Chapman has saved five playoff games — and become that reassuring ninth-inning presence at Wrigley Field — but he clearly responds better to a scripted role.

Miller has been untouchable during the postseason, throwing 11 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out 21 of the 41 batters he’s faced, giving Terry Francona even more freedom to manage a lights-out Cleveland bullpen.

“To be utilized like Miller,” Maddon said, “not everybody is cut from the same cloth mentally, either, or the ability to get loose and prepare. Andrew Miller — having done a variety of different things in the big leagues as a pitcher — is probably more suited to be able to be this guy that can get up in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth and warm up in a manner that gets him in the game both mentally and physically.

“Whereas Aroldis — if he wanted to do that — I think that would have had to be done from spring training. He’d have to differentiate his mindset. He’d have to have a different way to get ready. I do notice he throws a heavy baseball before he actually throws a regular baseball. That’s his routine.

“Whether you agree with it or not, that’s just the way it is. So with a guy like Aroldis — to ask him to attempt to dump his routine right now (and) do something else — I think you’re looking for failure right there.

“We stretched him to five outs the other night, which is a good thing, I thought. So now going forward he knows he can do that. But to just haphazardly throw him in the sixth, seventh or ninth, I think would be very difficult to do.”

Even in a World Series featuring historic droughts, Cy Young Award winners, MVP candidates and star managers, this October could come down to the bullpens shaped by deals with the Yankees.

“Both teams made aggressive trades,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Both teams are still standing. There’s something to that.”