"Things change day to day, and week to week," Hoyer said of the standings. "It doesn't take much of a hot streak to get in the race now. In the past, if you had two really good teams in the division, the Wild Card wasn't an option. Now, one hot streak and a couple injuries to a team that's leading, and everyone feels they're back in the race. It's hard to characterize how it will play out this year. In theory, there should be fewer sellers and more teams looking to add."
With the Yankees losing starters CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to injuries, there has been speculation that New York is interested in Dempster or Garza. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild knows Dempster, 35, well from his days with the Cubs, and Garza, 28, has had success against the American League East, posting a career 23-15 record and 3.34 ERA in 56 games (54 starts). The Yankees are very aware Garza has a 7-4 career record against the Red Sox, and he's 9-1 against the Orioles.
But the Cubs also know how valuable Garza is, especially since he is arbitration-eligible for one more season. The asking price will likely be high.
"I'll pitch on the freaking moon," Garza said recently. "As long as people keep asking me, I've done a good job. When they stop asking, it's time to worry."
Dempster, who will be a free agent after this season, has been linked by rumors to the Dodgers, who are battling the Giants in the National League West. The right-hander returned from the disabled list on Sunday and threw five shutout innings against the Mets. He extended his scoreless-innings streak to 27 and lowered his ERA to 1.99.
"You don't replace a 2.00 earned run average over how many innings he's got," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "That's why people want to trade for those guys."
Dempster just shrugs off the speculation.
"I don't read the paper a whole lot or watch much TV, and when I do it's usually 'Swamp People' or things like that," he said. "I don't notice the rumors. I just handle what I can handle and that's going out there and pitching and doing my job and wherever the cards fall, that's where they fall."
Despite his stinginess on the hill this season, Dempater's record stands at just 4-3. The right-hander would likely have a much better mark to go along with his impressive ERA if he'd gotten better run support. Rumors quieted heading into the All-Star break because Dempster was on the DL with a sore right lat. His next start is Saturday at Wrigley Field. Expect more than a few scouts.
"He's one of the most professional, hard-working people you're ever going to be around," Sveum said. "When he steps out on the mound, it's all 'Game-on' with him. It's not trade rumors, or 'Where am I going to go?' It's, 'How am I going to get the next pitch?'"
Dempster not only has been effective on the mound but is a leader in the clubhouse. There's a reason rookie Anthony Rizzo's locker is next to his, and it isn't simply because that spot was open.
"You don't want to lose your No. 1 starter," Chicago outfielder David DeJesus said of rumors circulating around Dempster. "We understand it's part of the game, and we'd love to have him here. If it happens [and he's traded], we'll move on. It's the nature of the beast."