Starter Ryan Dempster of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
So, you think Ryan Dempster might have had something else on his mind besides pitching Friday night in St. Louis?
Within a span of seven pitches in the first inning, the Cardinals produced four straight hits and a groundout that put three runs on the board off Dempster, and if you were watching, you might as well have stopped right there. That was enough runs for St. Louis to win the game; they added one more and defeated the Cubs 4-1.
Professional athletes are supposed to be able to block out distractions and focus on their work, and most of the time they do. But you can't help thinking that the trade rumors surrounding Dempster might have affected his performance. After that inning, Dempster settled down and the six-inning, four-run outing wasn't horrible -- he still leads the NL in ERA at 2.11 -- but the Cubs offense couldn't do much of anything against Kyle Lohse and three St. Louis relievers, managing just a single run on a walk to Bryan LaHair, a single by Steve Clevenger, and a sacrifice fly from Darwin Barney. Just two other Cubs made it as far as second base.
With all the breathless rumors about what teams Dempster might be going to -- Dodgers! No, Braves! No, Nationals! Maybe Tigers! And there's always the mystery team! -- it's instructive to read this about Dempster and what's actually happening:
He said he hasn't given management a list of teams he's willing to go to.
"I'm sure if they have something that has any substance to it they'll come up and ask me," he said. "But until then I'll just worry about what I can do. … It's awesome being the hammer and not the nail."
Dempster said he would consider staying.
"For sure," he said. "If I'm going to go, I want to go win. For right now I'm a member of this team."
It's still, obviously, likely that he'll be a member of another team before Wednesday afternoon, which would be his next scheduled start, in Pittsburgh. But that quote seems to indicate it might not be as close to a done deal as the rumors have it.
Meanwhile, it's up to the Cubs to figure out why it's so difficult to win away from Wrigley Field. By winning 10 of their last 12 home games, this year's Cubs have brought their home record to a more-than-respectable 24-21. That's just slightly behind the Cardinals' 24-20 record at Busch Stadium. But Friday's defeat moves the road record to 14-33, the second-worst road mark in the major leagues (only the Astros, at 10-39, are worse).
Figure that out and you might have something with this bunch. (That, and some bullpen help and another bat or two.) There are still five games remaining on this road trip, which has the same construction as the subsequent homestand (three vs. the Cardinals, then three vs. the Pirates). It'll be instructive to see how they do against the same opposition away, and then at home.