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Despite victory, Cubs could be headed for franchise-worst mark

Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster one Cubs’ few bright spots went eight scoreless innings pick up his second victory. | Jim

Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, one of the Cubs’ few bright spots, went eight scoreless innings to pick up his second victory. | Jim Mone~AP

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Updated: July 12, 2012 6:11AM



MINNEAPOLIS — A lot of people were counting on team president Theo Epstein and his ramped-up front office to make history in Chicago when they took over last fall.

Just maybe not this soon. And definitely not this way.

Even in victory Sunday, the specter of the worst Cubs season in history followed the team back home from a long and brutal road trip.

‘‘Well, hopefully, you have to change the pace,’’ manager Dale Sveum said before the Cubs did for one day with an 8-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins behind the pitching of Ryan Dempster. It was only their fifth victory in 25 games.

Even with the win, they remain on pace to break — by five — their record of 103 losses (done in 1962 and ’66).

‘‘You laugh about it, but it’s definitely there; it’s a reality,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘You don’t want any type of label like that. You better back it up pretty quick if you get that label.

‘‘But sometimes you bite the bullet on things. That’s just the way it is.’’

The Cubs were assured of at least an uphill climb when they didn’t replace free agents Aramis Ramirez or Carlos Pena with a proven run producer. They also gutted the bullpen with trades and by promoting Jeff Samardzija to the rotation.

Sixty games into the season, the Cubs are a bigger threat to gain next year’s top overall draft pick with an MLB-worst record than coming anywhere close to last year’s mark (71-91), which would take a 51-51 finish to match.

That’s probably not such a bad thing for the organization in the long run.

But it doesn’t help the mood around the team on a daily basis as the summer starts to heat up. With nearly four months left to play, the roster figures to get even more depleted the closer it gets to the July 31 trade deadline.

‘‘Yeah, everybody wants you to snap and yell and scream,’’ Sveum said, ‘‘but find something to snap and yell and scream about. I’ve already done it once. Are you going to keep doing it?’’

Sveum’s lone snap came during the 12-game skid that ended two weeks ago, but he wouldn’t say which day or talk about the specifics that set him off.

‘‘It didn’t help, obviously,’’ he said.

For now, he seems resigned to the reality of where this team stands in the Epstein-Jed Hoyer long-term plans for franchise-fixing. And no amount of extra snapping is going to change that.

Besides, he said, ‘‘It doesn’t make sense when guys are busting their butts and preparing every day. It’s not like we’re throwing balls around all over the place. It’s just that we’ve got to get better in certain areas. That’s the way it is. We know that.’’

Those certain areas could grow fast if the front office is able to pull off some of the deals it wants to make.

Case in point: Dempster, the only pitcher to earn victories during the just-completed trip through San Francisco, Milwaukee and Minnesota, doesn’t figure to still be around by August to keep the field staff sane every fifth day.

In the last year of his contract without a realistic means for getting draft-pick compensation if he leaves as a free agent, Dempster’s the likeliest — and maybe even the first — Cub to be moved once the bidding heats up.

He also has the third-best ERA in the National League (2.31) and a 15-inning scoreless streak.

Never mind the fact that the last three times this team has won a game, he was the starter.

‘‘He was pretty dominant again,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It’s pretty much a phenomenal run he’s had.’’

To think of the second half of the season without him? Not to mention a handful of other guys?

Almost enough to make a guy want to snap.



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