Dempster to start Game 1 of playoffs for Cubs

NEW YORK -- The Chicago Cubs plan to open the playoffs with a former closer on the mound: Ryan Dempster.

The 17-game winner was tabbed Thursday by manager Lou Piniella to start Game 1 in the best-of-five division series at Wrigley Field. The NL Central champions will play the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies or Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round beginning Wednesday.

"He deserves it," Piniella said. "He's been extremely consistent and reliable all season long."

Dempster is 17-6 with a 2.99 ERA, including a 14-3 mark with a 2.86 ERA at home. If the series goes the distance, he would be in line to start Game 5 in Chicago as well.

"Games 1 and 5 are at home, so it makes all the sense in the world," Piniella said. "From there, we've still got a little work to do."

The Cubs will go with a four-man rotation in the division series, but Piniella wouldn't reveal his intentions beyond Dempster. The manager said he has confidence in all four of his top starters, including Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly.

Dempster gets his final postseason tuneup Friday night at Milwaukee and probably will throw 75-80 pitches, Piniella said. Dempster saved 85 games for Chicago from 2005-07 before becoming a starter again this season, a role he had with Florida and Cincinnati.

Piniella rested most of his stars Thursday night against the New York Mets, including sluggers Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto. Mark DeRosa is sidelined with a strained calf and could miss the remainder of the regular season.

"I'm resting my team tonight. That was a long, long game last night," Piniella said. "And then I've got a couple injuries now."

Ryan Theriot also was supposed to get the night off but he started at shortstop because Ronny Cedeno jammed his right shoulder diving headfirst into first base while trying to beat out a grounder during Wednesday night's 10-inning victory.

"We don't encourage that. All you're doing is looking for problems. I don't think you get there any faster, either," Piniella said.

Cedeno could be back in a few days.

"We're a little short in the middle," Piniella said. "In one day we lose two middle infielders. That's not good."

The Mets began the night 1½ games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East and tied with Milwaukee atop the wild-card standings.

"I think all these teams that are in contention, knowing that we've clinched and we've come here to New York and won two out of three, I think everybody would be very happy prior to the series," Piniella said. "So we're going to do the best we can today ... but we've got to rest our team a little bit.

"What's the sense of trying to take care of everybody else. Take care of yourself, too," he added.

Piniella said he might rest several regulars again Friday night in Milwaukee, but his starters need to play Saturday and Sunday to stay sharp for the playoffs.