PITTSBURGH Ryan Dempster has tunnel vision, never looking beyond his next start, five days out.
That helps explain why Dempsters lasted this long, rebounding from Tommy John surgery, becoming a successful closer and transitioning back to the rotation.
For everyone else, its hard to ignore the bigger picture thats forming around the Cubs, whove now lost 10 games in a row, but have an Opening Day starter that will be in demand.
Dempster is now winless in his last 17 starts after Fridays 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. He pitched into the eighth inning, and lowered his ERA to 2.14, but couldnt stop the bleeding.
It doesnt make coming to the ballpark fun, Dempster said afterward. We just got to fight through it. It happens to a lot of teams. You go through losing streaks and thats where you find out a lot about yourself. You just got to continue to battle.
The Cubs (15-30) hadnt had a double-digit losing streak since 1997, when they lost their first 14 games that season. This was supposed to be a transition year, but the optimism about making things interesting seems to have evaporated.
At the moment, team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their baseball operations staff have turned their attention to the amateur draft in June.
Manager Dale Sveum is in his first year on the job, but hes been in the business long enough to know that the next six-to-eight weeks will be pivotal.
You get to that point of the year where decisions (are made), Sveum said. You get to the point where if youre not playing well, things start changing a lot. Obviously, right now, the front office is focused on doing the right things in that draft and getting the right people.
Thats part of the whole plan to build through the system. Its a lot of pressure right now to make those decisions. Its not that easy to get talent, find out the character of the talent. Its a crapshoot sometimes.
Paul Maholm who will try to break the losing streak on Saturday night at PNC Park waited out a few rebuilding plans here. The veteran left-hander had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization before signing with the Cubs last winter.
Its a different animal, just because if youre in Chicago, you have the payroll, Maholm said. Obviously, with Theo and Jed coming in, theres probably going to be a little bit of patience, but its not going to last very long. The guys in the locker room have to go out and win games.
Dempster sat on the bench next to Kerry Wood and his son last week after Kid K struck out one final batter and walked off into retirement.
Dempster, who turned 35 this month, was born 44 days before Wood in 1977, and they became close friends over the years. But it looks like Dempster still has plenty of bullets left. Its just a question of where he will be firing them.
Dempster is in his walk year and has no-trade rights. Changes to the collective bargaining agreement make it far more complicated and much less likely that the Cubs would pick up draft-pick compensation if he signed elsewhere.
Think a contender could use a strong veteran presence like this?
Dempster has accounted for at least six innings in each of his eight starts. Hes allowed two runs or less in six of those games. He still hasnt notched a victory since last August.
Hes pitched so great and we feel bad that we cant help him, outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. He pitched an unbelievable game and we didnt do anything offensively to win.
The Cubs went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and have scored in just four of their last 56 innings. In the ninth, the Pirates (21-24) watched closer Joel Hanrahan put runners on the corners before striking out David DeJesus and Starlin Castro to end the game.
You got to find a way to keep your head up and keep plugging forward, Dempster said, because that team on the other side of the field, the other 28 teams in the league, they dont feel sorry for you. They dont care. You cant feel sorry for yourself. You got to keep fighting through it.