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Ryan Dempster’s sarcasm comes through for ‘experts’ ignoring Cubs

Ryan Dempster said Cubs need worry about today rather than what’s down road. | GordWittenmyer~Sun-Times

Ryan Dempster said the Cubs need to worry about today rather than what’s down the road. | Gordon Wittenmyer~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 14, 2011 12:15AM

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs’ season is over before it even started.

It has to be true.

After all, that’s what the “experts’’ are saying.

‘‘It’s perfect .  .  . they already told me to book my tee times for October, all the experts,’’ pitcher Ryan Dempster said Wednesday. ‘‘I just went ahead and did that. I won’t have to worry about anything. Apparently, we won’t be playing in October, so that’s fine. Yep.’’

Forget dripping in sarcasm — it was a waterfall pouring from Dempster’s mouth.

But there’s something to be said about where the franchise is leading up to Opening Day. From 2004 to ’09, spring training was all about Cubbie hype. They were perennial favorites to win the National League Central, whether it was Dusty Baker at the helm or Lou Piniella.

Even last spring, with the St. Louis Cardinals the darling pick, the Cubs still were on the radar.

Welcome to 2011, where the Cubs have reached afterthought territory as far as the Central is concerned. It might be the perfect place to be.

‘‘People say that’s motivating,’’ Dempster said. ‘‘I don’t know. If you’re not motivated by just going out there and trying to win .  .  . you need someone to motivate you by telling you you’re not going to win? I never really bought into that.

‘‘For us, we’re just going to do what we do as a team, try to win every game we play in. It’s not about worrying about months down the road or weeks down the road. Worry about today.’’

And as far as today, the Cubs might be in a better situation than the experts first anticipated.

The Cardinals already lost ace Adam Wainwright for the season after Tommy John surgery, and Milwaukee Brewers ace Zack Greinke decided pickup basketball is more important than getting ready for a baseball season. Now Greinke is sidelined with a rib injury from his offseason hoops exploits for at least three regular-season starts.

Combine that with the fact that the Cubs finished last year 24-13 after Piniella handed the reins to Mike Quade. So, ‘‘lying in the weeds’’ is a good description of where the players see themselves.

“This locker room is motivated enough right now,’’ second baseman Blake DeWitt said. ‘‘We know what we have to do. When we play the game the right way, we saw what could happen the last month of last year, the last month-and-a-half really. Now I know a month-and-a-half isn’t a season, but it definitely should give us enough confidence to show us what we can do in a full season.’’

The danger in DeWitt’s assessment is the late-season winning came with the Cubs well out of it. Winning is easy when the spotlight is off.

“It doesn’t matter the time of year,’’ DeWitt said. “You look back at some of the teams we played during that last six weeks of the season or so .  .  . we weren’t in it, but we were playing contenders, guys that had something to play for. We were out of playoff contention, but we had something to play for — you play for pride. No one wants to roll over and say, ‘Hey, let’s wait for October.’

“That last month-and-a-half doesn’t mean anything now, but it does show us what we can do. We understand this team can have success, and we’ll stick to that plan.’’

Considering the spring stumbles so far, the “plan’’ is also seemingly lying in the weeds. But Dempster feels pretty good about when it will be time to flip the switch or start getting concerned.

‘‘As long as you’re really starting to play good baseball the last 10 days of spring, that’s important,’’ Dempster said. ‘‘The last 10 days or so is when the team starts coming together and really getting ready for the start of the season.’’

If that doesn’t happen, at least tee times are set.

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