Opening Day or not, Dempster needs fast start with Cubs

612198.png

Opening Day or not, Dempster needs fast start with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. Its not that the Cubs werent working hard before, Ryan Dempster said, before making an observation that pretty much sums up the entire organization.

Theres extra motivation any time you have new bosses, Dempster said. You want to make a good first impression. I think its only human nature, so I know a lot of guys have been pushing themselves to do the best they can.

Dempster is two months shy of his 35th birthday and will make 14 million in the final year of his contract. President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer want to build this team around young players under club control.

Dempster who threw two innings and gave up one run in Mondays 8-7 loss to the Oakland As at HoHoKam Stadium doesnt want to look into the future.

All of those pieces fall into place if you just go out there and do your job, Dempster said. The easiest thing for me to do is just focus on my job, and thats preparing in between starts and every fifth day to go out there and do the best job I can of being mentally and physically prepared to pitch.

Dempster could be getting the ball on April 5 at Wrigley Field against the Washington Nationals. Matt Garza would be the other logical candidate to start Opening Day.

Manager Dale Sveum said a decision will come within the next week, and acknowledged the symbolism behind it: Yeah, that all goes into it, theres no question about it. Who had the better year, the matchups, the leadership, whos been here the longest (and) the longevity of a career.

That could favor an established veteran like Dempster, who drew the assignment last year and put up a 9.58 ERA in his first six starts, part of a month he said hes already forgotten.

(Dempster said) he had an unbelievable spring training last year where he had unbelievable command of his fastball, Sveum said. That might have got him in a little bit of trouble because he mentioned he wasnt using his secondary pitches maybe as much. He was so caught up in having great fastball command, he didnt really work on his offspeed stuff in spring training last year.

Dempster was a little more evasive: Thats a really strong possibility. I never really thought of that. Ive been working on everything this spring. My offspeed stuff is already ahead of where it was last year.

Dempster managed to rebound and finished at 10-14 with a 4.80 ERA. He accounted for 21 quality starts and more than 200 innings. His run support (3.90 average) was the lowest on the staff. There were also times where it seemed obvious he was left in one or two batters too long.

There are all kinds of ways you can make stats look how you want them to look and use excuses, Sveum said. The bottom line is he knows hes better than he showed last year and I think hes on a mission to prove that.

Coming off a down season and heading into a contract year and with new management charting every pitch it shouldnt be hard to find motivation.

Theres a bright future on the horizon, Dempster said, but theres also a bright future right now. There are a lot of good players in here. We got to go out there on the field and be about it, not just talk about it.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN will live stream Cubs and White Sox games plus pre and postgame shows throughout the 2017 season.

This is thrilling news for all Chicago baseball fans and comes at an absolutely perfect time for a Cubs fanbase that will spend the rest of the year reveling in the 2016 World Series championship.

White Sox fans will also gain more opportunities to get up-close looks at the future as the South Siders continue on with their rebuild.

Both teams and the pre and post shows will be streamed on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

CSN already streams Bulls and Blackhawks games and pre/post shows.

"We are thrilled to launch live streaming of our Chicago White Sox and Cubs telecasts beginning this MLB season," said Phil Bedella, Vice President/General Manager of CSN Chicago. "With live streaming currently offered for our Bulls and Blackhawks telecasts, the addition of MLB streaming further illustrates our commitment to provide our viewers with the most in-depth and compelling Cubs and White Sox content in and out of the home and on any device."

The complete CSN broadcasting schedules for Cubs and White Sox telecasts will be released over the next couple weeks.

"We are very pleased that our partners at CSN will be able to provide fans with the opportunity to watch the White Sox anywhere," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for fans to watch their White Sox, regardless of where they are or what they are doing.  Sports fans deserve to see all the action all season long."

"After such a historic season, we are thrilled Cubs fans will be able to stream games on their choice of device, either inside or outside the home," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said. "This access has been years in the making for our fans, but the timing is awfully good given the excitement around the 2017 campaign."

For more information, check out the complete press release.