Schedule could decide Opening Day starter

Ryan Dempster looks to make his second straight Opening Day start for the Cubs. Kyle Terada/US Presswire

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs are about a week away from settling on an Opening Day starter, with two obvious candidates to choose from.

Ryan Dempster, who pitches Monday against the Oakland A's, is an option along with Matt Garza, who pitches Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.

“We’ve given it thought, but we haven’t decided on anything yet,” manage Dale Sveum said before Monday’s game. “We’re just kind of waiting and seeing how things pan out.”

How they perform in spring games before the decision is made will only be a part of the equation.

Sveum hinted at myriad of factors that will go into who gets the honor and many of them suggested Dempster could get the nod over Garza for the April 5 game at Wrigley Field against the Washington Nationals.

“There will be a lot of things: the matchups, how we want to go into the Brewers series, which won’t be actually a big deal,” Sveum said. “It will be elongated into the third series more than that, how everything lines up to the first nine to 12 games how it all works out.”

After the Cubs open with three games against the Nationals, they play the Milwaukee Brewers and then travel to St. Louis to play the Cardinals. Because of an off day on April 6, both of the first two Cubs starters would also be able to pitch against the Brewers. But only the Opening Day starter will be able to face the Cardinals.

Dempster is 15-5 with a 2.75 ERA in his career against the Brewers, but he would face them regardless if he starts game No. 1 or Game No. 2 of the season. He is just 8-8 with a 4.52 ERA against the Cardinals, though. Garza has less of a sample size to analyze against the Cardinals, going 2-1 with a 5.32 ERA against them in four career starts.

What could push Dempster over the top is the eight years of experience he has with the Cubs before this season. Dempster was also the Cubs’ Opening Day starter last season.

“Yeah, that all goes into it, no question about it: Who had the better year, the matchups, the leadership, who has been here the longest, stuff like that, the longevity of a career,” Sveum said. “You can go on and on about the reasons why.”

As the rotation is set now, Garza is lined up for the Opening Day start if he pitches every fifth day. If Dempster gets it, both he and Garza would have a little bit of extra rest before making their regular-season debut, a practice not uncommon among major-league managers.