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.

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

 

During the Chicago Fire’s stretch of four games in 13 days, FC Dallas had the best record out of the four opponents by a wide margin.

However, when Dallas came to Toyota Park on Thursday, the lineup that took the field was not the typical FCD squad. Dallas rotated many starters in advance of Sunday’s game against Houston (which ended a 0-0 draw).

Still, Fire midfielder Dax McCarty thought Dallas still provided tough opposition.

“This was the hardest game we played in this four-game stretch by far,” McCarty said after the game. “They’re a really well-coached team, they’re organized, they’re tough to break down, they have the best defensive record in the league for a reason. I don’t care if they rotated players, that was a really good team.”

Dallas proved to be a tough defensive team after a wild first 10 minutes that featured three goals. The game slowed and the Fire limited Dallas’ attack the rest of the way with McCarty and his central midfield partner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, keying the 2-1 win.

McCarty, Schweinsteiger key Fire midfield

The headline for this section is obvious and probably something that can be said every match, but both McCarty and Schweinsteiger had good showings on Thursday.

The duo had the most touches in the match (Schweinsteiger with 105, McCarty with 93) and both completed passes at a high rate (Schweinsteiger 87 percent, McCarty 86 percent). Dallas isn’t a team built around keeping possession (FCD is actually towards the bottom of the league in possession), but the Fire held the edge even with Dallas chasing the Fire’s lead for more than 80 minutes.

Schweinsteiger had a game-high 12 ball recoveries, including two past midfield, won four tackles and had two interceptions, both in the attacking half. McCarty had five ball recoveries, but more impressively won three tackles past midfield. The Fire's ability to press and win the ball higher up the field was on display in this match and these two were at the heart of that.

McCarty's highlight came on a play when both centerbacks made mistakes that took them out of the play. A few minutes before halftime Johan Kappelhof dribbled forward, but lost control and turned it over. Joao Meira wildly slid to stop the ball, but missed badly. That left the Fire scrambling, but McCarty saw it the whole way and was able to recover to block a cross and only concede a corner kick.

The clip below starts just after Kappelhof's turnover:


Matt Hedges was very good

The Fire scored two early goals, but didn’t generate much in the way of chances after that. A big reason why was Dallas centerback Matt Hedges.

Hedges won plenty of aerial duels and also had the speed to keep up with David Accam in 1v1 spots on a few occasions.

The Fire had just three shots on target, not counting Nemanja Nikolic’s saved penalty in added time, the entire match. That’s not a good output, especially when considering two of those came in the first 10 minutes.

Hedges was credited with eight ball recoveries (the most on Dallas and second only to Schweinsteiger’s 12 for the match), four interceptions, four clearances and a pair of tackles won.

The 6-foot-5 centerback was just called in to the latest national team roster and this performance was a good example of why.

Fire hold on for close win

The Fire led this game for the final 81 minutes and did so without Dallas getting a shot on target after Roland Lamah’s early goal.

Previous Fire teams developed a reputation for blowing these kinds of games. This year’s team held on without much drama.

Even if Dallas was without much of its best attacking talent, the Fire limited Dallas to just the one shot on target (Lamah’s goal in the sixth minute). Dallas was chasing the game for 80 minutes and couldn’t even test Matt Lampson.

In the final 20 minutes Dallas had three free kicks that went into the box and a corner kick. Nothing came from those and there wasn’t anything from the run of play other than three crosses into the box that were cleared without drama.

The insurance goal never came, but the Fire did have the best chances in the final minutes. Juninho had a hard shot on target in the 89th minute and Nikolic had a penalty kick in added time. The Fire also had a majority of the possession in the final 10 minutes.

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera is the latest hitter to aid a surprising White Sox offense.

The veteran outfielder had two go-ahead hits on Monday afternoon, including an RBI single in the seventh inning of a 5-4 White Sox victory over the Boston Red Sox in front of 27,148 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cabrera also blasted a three-run homer for the White Sox, who won for the fourth time in five games on the homestand.

Only three weeks ago, Cabrera boasted a .595 OPS and had one home run to his credit. But Cabrera has followed the leads of Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu and heated up over the last week.

He continued his torment of opposing pitchers in the third inning when he ripped the first pitch he saw from David Price for a three-run homer to put the White Sox ahead 3-1. Cabrera nearly broke a 3-all tie in the fifth inning with runners on the corners. But Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts made a diving stop and flipped the ball to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners.

He wouldn’t be denied in the seventh.

With the White Sox down 4-3, Yolmer Sanchez led off the seventh with a triple to right. Kevan Smith tied it with an RBI double. Two outs later, Cabrera looped a Matt Barnes pitch up the middle and Smith charged home even though Red Sox second baseman Josh Rutledge tracked the ball down in shallow center. Rutledge fired home but catcher Christian Vazquez couldn’t handle the hop and Smith slid in with the go-ahead run.

Cabrera is hitting .407/.467/.852 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his last 30 plate appearances.

Adam Engel and Tim Anderson both walked ahead of Cabrera’s homer off Price, who allowed two hits and three earned runs in five innings in his first start of the season.

Buoyed by the performances of Garcia, Abreu — whose 10-game hit streak ended Monday — and Cabrera, the White Sox offense has performed better than expected this season. Monday’s effort was the 23rd time in 50 games in which the offense has scored five or more runs. The team entered Monday seventh in the American League with 225 runs scored, an average of 4.59 per contest.

The White Sox bullpen made the lead hold up. Juan Minaya struck out the side in a scoreless seventh inning for the victory. Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson each added scoreless frames to preserve the win.

David Holmberg made a spot start and allowed two hits and three earned runs in four innings.