The Chicago Cubs beat the Texas Rangers on Friday to start the second half of the season, and for the Cubs it was a feel-good win after a rough last few weeks before the All-Star Break. But for the Rangers, another first place team that limped into the break, this loss must have been a particularly painful one.
The Cubs shut out the Rangers, 6-0, and former Rangers farmhands pitched eight of the nine innings. Start with Kyle Hendricks, who suddenly has become the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher lately. He threw six shutout innings to lower his ERA to 2.41, which is good for third in the major leagues. Not on the team. Not in the National League. In the entire major leagues. Only Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner currently have a better mark.
Hendricks came over to the Cubs in a deadline deal during the 2012 season, when he was still in the minors, along with Christian Villanueva for Ryan Dempster. At the tail end of his career, Dempster was pitching well for the Cubs but couldn’t carry that success over to the Rangers. After posting a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts for the Cubs that year, Dempster’s ERA rose to 5.09 in 12 starts in Texas. Meanwhile, the Rangers blew a late division lead and lost the Wild Card game to the Orioles. Dempster would pitch one more year in the majors, for the Red Sox in 2013.
Oh, and ironically enough, Dempster, now working in the Cubs’ front office, sang the seventh inning stretch impersonating Harry Caray during Friday’s game. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound.
Then in 2013, the rebuilding Cubs cashed in on another veteran pitcher having a good season. Jim Hendry, in a desperation move, had emptied the farm system when he traded for Matt Garza from the Rays before the 2011 season. But Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were able to at least somewhat redeem that move by sending Garza, who had a 3.17 ERA in 11 starts, to the Rangers in 2013. In that trade, the Cubs picked up Carl Edwards, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, and Mike Olt.
The infielder Olt was only with the Cubs for a brief time, but the other three players, all pitchers, have contributed for the Cubs out of the bullpen. Ramirez had some success before the Cubs let him go earlier this season, but both Edwards and Grimm pitched an inning of scoreless relief against the Rangers on Friday. Grimm has struggled this year but was terrific last year, while Edwards is quickly emerging as a solid late-inning option for Joe Maddon.
Like the Dempster trade, this one didn’t work out too well for the Rangers either. Garza wasn’t a disaster in Texas but wasn’t great either, posting a 4.38 in 13 starts, while the team lost the Wild Card tiebreaking game to the Rays. Garza then moved on to the Brewers and has been a disaster there to this point.
Like the Cubs, the Rangers are currently in first place and in a good position to make the postseason. But they’re probably wishing they could have a mulligan on these two trades. As for the Cubs, we can thank Epstein and Hoyer for pulling off two trades that are paying off well.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.