Well, that was anticlimactic. Just when you thought an Opening Day meeting with the Washington Nationals would bring about a marquee pitching matchup, Dale Sveum goes the other way.
On Friday, Sveum announced that Ryan Dempster will start on Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs, for the second consecutive year.
His counterpart for the Nats will be phenom Stephen Strasburg, who enters the season coming off a year that was almost completely lost due to Tommy John surgery. His start against the Cubs will be his first start in a season that will see him be limited to just 160 innings, as the Nats keep a close eye on him.
Dempster is coming off a year that could be considered awful by a quick look at his stats, which include a 4.80 ERA, but in which all of his peripherals were consistent with his career numbers. His strikeouts per nine, walks per nine, and home runs per nine were almost exactly along the same lines as his career average, but the big change was his BABIP, which jumped up to .324 last season.
The move is a bit surprising, given the opportunity for a duel between a pair of power pitchers in Strasburg and Matt Garza, who is considered the ace of the staff.
Dempster starting Opening Day lines up Garza for the no. 2 spot in the rotation, with Dale Sveum also saying that former Pittsburgh Pirate Paul Maholm will begin the season as the Cubs’ fifth starter.
That means that those two remaining spots in the starting staff will start in the third and fourth spots, though their identities still remain a mystery. Smart money says Jeff Ssamardzija will take that third spot, even with his rough outing on Friday, while Chris Volstad takes the fourth. That likely sends Randy Wells to either the bullpen or to a new club. Either way, as this spring winds down, we should know very soon.