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Cubs feeling good about themselves, but changes are coming

Ryan Dempster came off disabled list Sunday extend his scoreless streak 27 innings. | Kathy Willens~AP

Ryan Dempster came off the disabled list Sunday to extend his scoreless streak to 27 innings. | Kathy Willens~AP

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Updated: August 10, 2012 6:29AM



NEW YORK — Eminem blared from clubhouse speakers as Matt Garza razzed Carlos Marmol about his lavender shirt and gray beret, as Starlin Castro joked about strength coach Tim Buss’ hitting tips leading to a three-run home run, as the Cubs headed into the All-Star break riding their best feel-good finish to a first half they’ve experienced since early in Lou Piniella’s tenure.

‘‘Hopefully it’s something to build on going into the second half,’’ manager Dale Sveum said after a 7-0 victory Sunday against the New York Mets, ‘‘to know you can compete with some of the upper-echelon teams in the [league].’’

But this feel-good moment during the Cubs’ best two-week stretch (9-4) in almost a year was tempered by the specter of changes that are certain to come in the next few weeks.

The reality of that was on display Sunday in the form of right-hander Ryan Dempster’s dominant return from the disabled list. He pitched five scoreless innings to beat the Mets and officially restart the five- or six-team race to land him in a trade before the non-waiver deadline July 31.

Dempster’s 1.99 ERA is the best in the National League, and his 27-inning scoreless streak is the longest by a Cubs pitcher in 41 years (matching Ken Holtzman). And his performance against the Mets should allay any concerns about his strained lat muscle.

‘‘If [a trade] happens, you don’t replace a 2.00 earned-run average over however many innings he’s got,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘That’s why people want to trade for those guys. But you don’t replace those guys.’’

When the Cubs resume their season Friday, they’ll have 19 days before the deadline — and another month after that to work on trades of big-ticket players who can be navigated through waivers.

Almost everyone on the roster is in play. Almost half the names on the roster already have shown up in various reports and rumor mills.

‘‘We all know the reality of this part of the year, whether it’s Dempster or anybody else on the roster, for that matter,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘That’s just part of the game that comes along with not having the best record in the world and other teams trying to add on, feeling their chances of adding that one piece to their puzzle that will get them over the hump or get them into the playoffs.’’

The other thing contending teams know is the Cubs are the most determined sellers with the longest list of pieces for sale. Whether that results in one trade or five, it means the rumors will get louder and more constant the rest of the month, creating even more potential distractions.

‘‘No doubt about it,’’ said veteran outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who has been the subject of on-again, off-again trade rumors for two years. ‘‘I try not to think about it, but maybe somebody in the clubhouse sees something [about himself].’’

‘‘It’s something players have to deal with and we have to deal with,’’ Sveum said.

Dempster (4-3), who said he doesn’t remember having better command than he has had this season, will be on last-start-as-a-Cub watch the rest of the way, starting Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He shrugged off the trade stuff again by joking about not reading newspapers or watching TV — ‘‘and if I do, it’s usually ‘Swamp People.’ ’’

But it probably will be one of the biggest losses the Cubs will feel this season when Dempster gets traded — from his presence in the clubhouse to his performance on the mound — making how they replace him a big question for the final months.

‘‘You don’t,’’ Sveum said.



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