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.

Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

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Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

The White Sox take on the Royals on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. from Kansas City. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 4.57 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (0-0, 2.13 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Phillies on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (4-3, 2.60 ERA) vs. Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

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Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

The Bears’ decision to move on from Matt Forte, the No. 2 running back in franchise history behind only Walter Payton in yardage, was not necessarily an easy one. It was, however, unanimous at Halas Hall, sources told CSNChicago.com. And it was also part of a significant deeper change in the main operating principle underpinning the Bears’ rushing offense.

Depending upon what Forte does with the New York Jets — and for how long — the decision might be open to question. Few NFL decisions aren’t.

But the Bears’ offense under John Fox and new coordinator Dowell Loggains was clearly going away from what Forte was accustomed to — a true featured back with a relief-back in the form of a Chester Taylor/Marion Barber/Michael Bush — and moving onto a true use of two backs in the fashion that Fox’s Denver Broncos offenses used them.

The change will be more than just a few carries. Forte lost carries last season to Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey. This is different.

Instead of Forte and an understudy, as the de facto rushing offense has been since Forte was drafted in 2008, the Bears this offseason made the decision to emphasize the run even more under Loggains, and that has meant something other than simply more carries for Forte’s understudy.

For perspective purposes: Last season Forte missed three full games due to a knee injury but still totaled 276 touches (carries plus targets) to 236 combined for Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. When Forte returned from the three-game injury break, the offense had changed. Forte had four 20-carry games in the first six. He had one over the final six.

Forte did not appear publicly to genuinely embrace the job-sharing approach as Langford’s carries matched and in cases exceeded his own. Whether he would have been on board with ceding even more meaningful time to a co-back is another matter that would have been open to question, though any suspicions that direction are now moot.

(If Forte would have had problems with younger backs rising, he would not have been the first; Thomas Jones ultimately demanded a trade after the Lovie Smith Bears drafted Cedric Benson to broaden the run game.)

Regardless, the true multi-back system will be a change for the Bears, harking back perhaps to the Bears building their run game on two starter-grade backs in Benson and Jones. The Bears’ unsuccessful attempt to bring in C.J. Anderson from Denver suggests less a no-confidence vote in either Carey or Langford than a measure of the commitment to both competition and a depth chart with meaning past the top one or even two names. The Bears have used mid-round picks on running backs in three straight drafts (Carey, Langford, Jordan Howard this year), making the same point the Anderson interest did.

And that’s how Langford took the Howard selection to a position that where confidence in him was one of the reasons the organization was OK with parting with Forte.

“I really didn’t think too much of (the Howard pick),” Langford said. “I know it’s just competition. That’s what brings a lot of running backs, a lot of positions, to push themselves even more. Competition is always a good thing, and playing in the NFL, there’s always going to be competition, so you can’t really become too complacent as a player.”

“Complacent” wasn’t a word anyone was likely to apply to Langford, and certainly to Carey, who played his way up from a roster bubble at the end of training camp last year. And Howard as a fifth-round rookie isn’t guaranteed anything for awhile in training camp except reps with the 2s or 3s, with Jacquizz Rodgers also re-signed after an injury shortened 2015.

Loggains has been dealt a hand without an ace like Forte but with what he and the organization think can be three or four kings, depending on roster decisions at the end of August.

“We like where Jeremy’s at,” Loggains said. “He needs to continue to develop. There’s things he can do a better job of in the passing game, but we still like our other backs. Ka’Deem Carey finished strong for us last year. We obviously drafted a back. We’re excited about getting Jacquizz Rodgers back as well.”