Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From D to Z: Dempster gets Opening Day nod, followed by Zambrano

*I actually wrote this before Quade named Dempster the Opening Day starter, I swear. But I've edited it to reflect Quade's rather early decision.

The question scarcely had to be asked the last few years since Carlos Zambrano has been on the mound the last six Opening Days. But after a season in which Zambrano went all Zambrano and was banished to the bullpen for over a month, and with a new manager at the helm, we knew that streak was in jeopardy in 2011. Given that Z has just one win in those six tries and that the memory of the Braves bashing him around last year has not quite faded (it was kind of him to throw Jason Heyward that coming out party, though), I think it's time to give someone else a chance. On Monday, we found out that Quade agrees.

The obvious choice was indeed Ryan Dempster. In the three seasons since he became a starter again, he has won more games than Z each year and had a lower ERA in two of the three years. He's eclipsed the 200-inning mark all three seasons (Z hasn't done so since 2007) and has been consistently solid in his seven years as a Cub.

In terms of ERA and WHIP, a case could have been made for the newly acquired Matt Garza. But in my opinion, while getting the nod for Opening Day is mostly about recognition of talent, I think it's also an honor. And given that the next time Garza plays in a Cubs uniform will also be the first, I think Dempster is much more deserving of the distinction.

Of course we might also ask: Does it really matter who starts? Not really. It's just one game, just one start; each pitcher will get about 30 more over the course of the season. But Zambrano's lack of success on the season's first day is noteworthy and makes Mike Quade's decision perhaps more meaningful than the corresponding decision that, say, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will have to make. Zambrano tends to operate at about 100 mph, sort of like someone who's high on coke. Yeah, someone who's high on coke and has Tourette's. But it seems like on Opening Days he's more jacked up than Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night. The role simply doesn't fit him. It's like asking Gary Busey to be your Jenga partner--you're going to lose and it's probably not going to end well.

So way to change it up, Quade. Let's see what a little calmness on the mound looks like on the season's first day. It's an honor Dempster deserves, and it gives the Cubs the Opening Day opportunity they deserve.

But what do you think? Is Dempster the right guy? Who should be on the mound April 1?

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