Cubs bullpen steps up for Dempster


Cubs bullpen steps up for Dempster

Monday, April 11, 2011Posted: 10:50 PM Updated: 12:15 AM

By Patrick Mooney

HOUSTON Ryan Dempster might be the last player on the roster Cubs staffers worry about. They figure that all the numbers 30-plus starts, 200 innings will be there by the end of September.

That confidence doesnt erase Dempsters line from his first two starts 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA. But with 40 percent of their rotation on the disabled list, the Cubs need their Opening Day starter to perform like one.

Dempster did up to a point on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. Then the Cubs bullpen hung on for a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros in front of 20,175 fans.

Dempster estimated that he felt good through 95 percent of this start. It was the other five percent that caused the Cubs anxiety in another close game that was in doubt until the final out.

The games entire complexion changed in the seventh inning, in a span of three consecutive batters and eight pitches. Dempster had just rung up his ninth strikeout and appeared to be cruising.

Until pinch-hitter Bill Hall drilled a 91 mph fastball off the foul pole in right field to make it a 5-2 game. Michael Bourn then drove a slider that bounced off the top of the right-field wall and a replay review kept it as a double.

Angel Sanchez next launched a two-run homer into the left-field seats and there went a night off for the bullpen. The Cubs desperately needed Dempster to go deep into this game.
Watch: Quade praises his bullpen
James Russell will leave the bullpen on Tuesday to make the first big-league start of his career in front of his family and friends. The 25-year-old Texan will let it rip for three or four innings and the Cubs will patch it together from there.

Russells father, Jeff, made a nice career and two All-Star games out of swinging between starter and a reliever. The son predicted that his dad will be nervously pacing the concourse at Minute Maid Park.

Russell said he has no clue if this is a one-shot deal. The Cubs arent in a rush to announce what theyll do when the fifth starters turn comes up again April 18 at Wrigley Field against the San Diego Padres.

Well see, manager Mike Quade said. This is an ongoing evaluative process, both how Russ throws and what other options might be available, whether theyre here with us now or whether theres somebody somewhere else.

That made Dempster who gave up four runs on six hits in 6.1 innings working into the seventh so important. John Grabow got the ball to Sean Marshall, who handed it to Carlos Marmol. The bullpen isnt completely burned out for Tuesday night.

The Cubs (5-5) kept talking about getting some breaks and instead the eighth inning saw two hard-hit singles that bounced off infielders gloves Darwin Barney leaping through the air and Aramis Ramirez diving into the dirt.

But with runners on first and third, Marshall fooled Bourn, who whiffed on a 75 mph curveball. Marmol then came in for the four-out save and struck out Sanchez with a 79 mph slider.

It was typical Marmol in the ninth inning a single and a walk in between two strikeouts to finish off the Astros (2-8). At the end of his high-wire act, Marmol screamed and pumped his fist.
Watch: Dempster feeling good 95 of the time

Ive seen him do too many crazy things to ever really panic, Dempster said. I dont really get that nervous when hes pitching. He just seems to have a knack for striking guys out and getting out of big innings.

The Cubs feel the same way about Dempster, who earned the first of what they expect will be double-digit wins. They have no other choice.

Patrick Mooney is's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: Cubs ‘really have no weaknesses’

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: Cubs ‘really have no weaknesses’

As Wrigley Field was still shaking in the aftermath of the Cubs’ first National League pennant in 1945 years, a clear-eyed Dave Roberts saw the blunders the Los Angeles Dodgers made in the National League Championship Series, but also acknowledged that his team ended the regular season with a record 12 1/2 games worse than the Cubs. 

“They beat us,” Roberts said. “We made mistakes. And you hate to have sour grapes, but the better team won the series. That's why you play seven-game series, and they showed it.”

The Dodgers took control of the NLCS with back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3, with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill shutting down a lineup that scored the second most runs in the NL (808) and led the league in on-base percentage (.343) in the regular season. But sparked by Ben Zobrist’s bunt in Game 4, the Cubs offense quickly returned to normal, scoring 10, eight and five runs in the final three games of the series.

What the Cubs did against Kershaw in Game 6 was described by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein as a “masterpiece performance.” The guy who Cubs left-hander Jon Lester said “might go down as the best pitcher of our generation” couldn’t put hitters away and was punished for the mistakes he made, with Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo blasting home runs and Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist driving in early runs. 

Just having the the best record in baseball has hardly been a guarantee of playoff success, though. In the Wild Card era (1995-present), only nine of the 26 teams with the best record (either alone or tied for it) in baseball have reached the World Series. The Cubs are that ninth team.

“Up to this point, to the World Series, they have gone wire to wire,” Roberts said. “They win a hundred-plus games, they have really no weaknesses, and youth, veterans, starting pitching, they got the guy at the back end, so they catch the baseball, they can slug, they get on base, and they're relentless.”

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

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This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”