CHICAGO—Expectations for the Chicago Cubs may be the lowest in years heading into a new season, but everyone's somewhat optimistic on Opening Day.
The Cubs and Washington kicked off the 2012 season Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field with Ryan Dempster facing off against Washington phenom Stephen Strasburg.
Uber-Cubs fan Bill Murray threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Wood, after running around the bases and making an awkward slide into home plate.
Wood entered the game with a 1-0 lead, a man on and two outs in the eighth, but walked three straight hitters to blow the win for Dempster. Jayson Werth's walk forced in a run that tied the game at 1-1, before Mark DeRosa grounded out to end the inning.
Marmol came on in the ninth and retired the first two hitters b efore ex-Cub Chad Tracy doubled and scored on Ian Desmond's single to right, giving the Nationals a 2-1 lead. Ian Stewart's one-out triple off Brad Lidge gave the Cubs hope, but pinch-runner Joe Mather left on contact on Jeff Baker's grounder to third and was thrown out at the plate.
Marlon Byrd was called out on strikes, ending the game.
Dempster allowed one run on two hits with 10 strikeouts and three walks. He got off to a rocky start, but dominated after the first inning.
The Cubs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth on a two-out, run-scoring single to left by Byrd, and maintained that lead into the eighth.
Dempster yielded a single and walk to the first two hitters he faced, but stranded runners on second and third by inducing Werth to fly to right, and didn't allow another hit until Ian Desmond singled leading off the eighth.
The Cubs first hit of the season was a sky-high pop-up by Starlin Castro that fell a couple feet from the pitching mound. Alfonso Soriano followed with a shot to center to end the inning.
Dempster escaped another jam in the third after loading the bases with one out on an Ian Stewart error and a pair of walks. But Dempster struck out Adam LaRoche and again got Werth to fly into the teeth of an incoming 18 m.p.h. wind.
So what should Cubs fans expect from this team?
"Good baseball, guys playing hard and working hard," Dempster said. "Hopefully through that hard work and through the talent we have, we'll get good results. Definitely expect the game to be played the right way, and hopefully when you do that you'll start to see wins pile up because of it."
Most of the experts project the Cubs to lose between 90-100 games. But the experts have been known to be wrong on occasion.
"Ideally, you win," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I had an interesting experience my first year (as GM) in San Diego. We had no expectations. Las Vegas thought we were going to be under 70 wins, and I think we had the best record in baseball in mid-August, and we ended up winning 90 games. To say I expected that would be a lie.
"The most important thing you can do is be prepared every game, have a team that plays hard every game. If you have that, anything can happen. ... If that doesn't happen, if that isn't our script, I certainly hope that throughout the course of the year we continue to add talent to our roster and build for a great day in the future. But I would never give away any one season. Given the personnel in that clubhouse and given the coaching staff, there's no reason we can't surprise a lot of people like one or two teams does every year."