Cubs fall to Cardinals while waiting for deals to be done
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com July 20, 2012 10:48PM
Ryan Dempster’s scoreless-innings streak ended at 33. He gave up three runs in the first. | Getty Images
Updated: August 22, 2012 6:14AM
ST. LOUIS — This was a Cubs roster that was flawed when new management inherited it. Then the front office disemboweled the bullpen and left a gutted lineup to fend for itself.
With little help beyond a few waiver claims and castoff-quality trades since the start of spring training, the new manager and coaching staff finally arranged the spare parts into a baseball machine that has hummed to the best record in the majors in the last four weeks.
This was part of the big-picture design, of course, with short-term concerns taking a distant back seat to long-term benefits.
But that doesn’t make the reward for this unforeseen, nearly monthlong run of success any easier to take when that reward is another kick in the butt to the 2012 roster from upstairs.
“We all know that’s part of the game,’’ manager Dale Sveum said Friday after spending the previous 24 hours preparing and bracing for the top performing pitcher in baseball this year to get traded from his rotation.
Ryan Dempster, who started Friday amid trade talk between the Cubs and multiple suitors, lost for the first time since May when the team fell to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1.
Any of nearly a dozen other Cubs — from Matt Garza and Paul Maholm to Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson — could be dealt in quick succession leading up to the
July 31 non-waiver deadline.
“Unfortunately, it possibly could come at a time when we’re playing the best baseball of our season, as well as any stretch for a lot of teams,’’ Sveum said. “The reality of losing pieces from something that is working very well is not easy to swallow for a team. But that’s the way it is sometimes.’’
Team president Theo Epstein said earlier in the week that he doesn’t see any quick fixes for the roster coming anytime soon in the way of big-league trade acquisitions or free-agent signings next winter.
Players are trying to keep their minds off what everyone in the clubhouse knows is an inevitable selloff by the brass. Baker said they even joke among themselves that management is going to add at the deadline because they’re playing so well.
“It can be tough because we’ve started having fun,’’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano said, “but at the same time we worry about who’s going to go or who’s going to stay. We try to not think about it and just come back to the ballpark every day and just focus on that day.’’
Meanwhile, every team with a self-perceived stake in an upcoming pennant stretch that could be historically wide-open with the addition of two playoff spots is focusing on the Cubs.
Toronto, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, the New York Yankees and both Los Angeles teams are just a few of the clubs scouting the Cubs in recent series, including an especially large contingent in St. Louis for the Friday-Saturday starts of Dempster and Garza.
The especially conspicuous Dempster watch might only be a prelude for what the next 10 days hold for Sveum — and maybe longer if the Cubs are able to maneuver any August deals through the waiver process.
“I keep saying it’s that time of the year. That’s why I kept my phone on high volume today,’’ Sveum said. “It can happen like that where one phone call changes the whole scenario. It can happen quick. It can happen with more than one guy.’’
That’s why the Cubs had AAA Iowa starter Casey Coleman ready to go Friday if Dempster was traded.
“You have to prepare for stuff like this,’’ Sveum said. “You prepare the best you can. It’s never a perfect world because you never know that day or that hour when it’s going to happen.’’