LaHair feels like he can do some damage


LaHair feels like he can do some damage

As Alfonso Soriano surveyed the scene, a big smile crossed his face: Yeah, babe, swagger.

Inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium, a pack of reporters moved toward Bryan LaHair. The 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound first baseman filled up the space in front of his locker.

LaHair is measured and polite, and answered questions about the Adam Wainwright fastball he lifted over the left-field fence and into the Cubs bullpen. That grand slam on April 13 helped ruin the day the Cardinals raised their World Series banner.

Swagger may not be the right word, at least not after 230-plus big-league at-bats. But theres an inner calm to LaHair. At the age of 29, he believes he belongs, that hes in the right place at the right time.

You saw it late Monday night at Wrigley Field against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. LaHair fouled off six straight fastballs that were clocked between 95 and 98 mph. That 12-pitch walk in the bottom of the ninth set in motion a 3-2 comeback victory.

I just dont have any fear, LaHair said. Im real confident with two strikes. Sometimes when youre struggling, thats when you lose confidence. But I just feel like I can do damage with two strikes, as much as I can with no strikes.

In that kind of situation, you just got to relax and just breathe and let the anxiety go.

This is what Theo Epstein means when the Cubs president talks about grinding out at-bats. LaHair grew up a Red Sox fan and played high school hoops for J.P. Ricciardi a Moneyball figure and the former Blue Jays general manager at Holy Name in Worcester, Mass.

Entering Tuesday, LaHair had seen 4.11 pitches per plate appearance, second among Cubs regulars and trailing only David DeJesus (4.16), who ranked 11th in the National League.

LaHair has reached base safely in his last 14 games, and hit three of the teams six home runs. He knows he will strike out often, and doesnt expect to walk all that much. Hes just looking for a good pitch to hit hard.

LaHair believes the sample sizes are too small to read too much into the splits against right-handers (13-for-30, .433 average) and lefties (0-for-6 with five strikeouts until Tuesday's heroics).

Im not afraid of left-handers, he said. I feel like any time I come to the plate I can do something. (But) Im onboard. I have a role right now (and) we just accept it and be part of the team.

Nothing against LaHair, but pretty soon fans will want to see Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman of the future whos hitting .373 with seven homers and 19 RBI in 19 games at Triple-A Iowa.

Ive been following him, LaHair said. I know hes doing really well and thats expected. (The) kid can really hit. Theres no doubt about it. I know down there hes been working on some things and trying to make some adjustments for the big-league level.

Ive been there before and hes going to figure that little part out (and) Im sure hes going to have success.

Thats not quite Ryan Theriot having a little fun and telling Starlin Castro: Come and get it. And Rizzo talked in spring training about wanting to be in the same Cubs lineup with LaHair.

Two left-handed bats, a lot of power, (seeing) a lot of pitches, LaHair said. (Thats) definitely a good combo. Its just whenever the right time is.

LaHair hasnt practiced at all in the outfield this year, but thinks it would only take him a few days to get back up to speed if the Cubs ever make that decision (and somehow move Soriano).

But Epstein believes that players whove hit at every level can do it in the big leagues. Its time to see what sort of asset LaHair can become across the next few months.

The guy who last season won the Pacific Coast Leagues MVP award and then went to play winter ball in Venezuela will act like hes been here before.

This is my opportunity, LaHair said. This is something Ive been visualizing my whole entire life. So its like Ive been there a million times. Ive been seeing myself do this for awhile.

Game 2 between Cubs-Indians moved to 6:08 p.m. CT first pitch

Game 2 between Cubs-Indians moved to 6:08 p.m. CT first pitch

Due to the threat of rain later on in the night, Major League Baseball announced that Game 2 of the World Series between the Cubs and Indians has been moved up an hour to a 6:08 p.m. CT first pitch.

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Jake Arrieta is expected to take the ball for the Cubs while Trevor Bauer will do the same for the Indians.

Theo Epstein knows what Cubs are up against vs. Indians skipper Terry Francona

Theo Epstein knows what Cubs are up against vs. Indians skipper Terry Francona

CLEVELAND — While his belief in statistical analysis has gained notoriety with the non-traditional usage of reliever Andrew Miller this postseason, Terry Francona has always gone against conventional baseball wisdom.

Since his days in Philadelphia, the Cleveland Indians manager has never been afraid to trust the numbers in order to find an edge that might help his team. Francona’s shrewd style, one he’s most certainly honed over the years, has come into focus this October for the willingness to employ his best reliever far earlier than most managers traditionally would ever imagine. Even though his decisions have had a significant impact on the Indians’ fortunes, the club’s veteran manager likes to downplay his role in an aw-shucks manner.

But he isn’t fooling his former boss. As the Cubs began their first World Series appearance in 71 years on Tuesday night, the team’s president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, knew his old Boston Red Sox manager would undoubtedly have a few unconventional ideas in store.

“Tito has always been great at blending the numbers with his gut and his knowledge of the game and the same thing he’s doing now,” Epstein said. “Back when he was with the Red Sox, he always took his managerial game to another level in the postseason. He was willing to be assertive in situations where maybe he wouldn’t have over the grind of the regular season and be very decisive and very proactive.”

Francona’s progressive use of Miller has become a focal point as the situations in which managers utilize their key relievers has been a talking point among analysts for several years now. Whereas the majority of managers normally save their top relievers for last, analysts believe the best skippers don’t hesitate to use theirs in the highest-leverage of situations.

So when Francona trotted Miller out in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series on Oct. 6 only two days after Baltimore’s Buck Showalter didn’t use Cy Young candidate Zack Britton in a wild-card loss, the national conversation gained steam.

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But this isn’t Francona’s first foray into making decisions based on analysis. He used to write down the splits of batters and pitchers on the back of lineup cards when he managed the Phillies from 1997 to 2000. Then he added a computer into the mix when he made decisions as the Oakland A’s bench coach in 2003, and it grew from there. Not only did he spend eight seasons with Epstein in Boston, Francona now has one of baseball’s largest analytical front offices as his disposal. That has resulted in a number of decisions the old guard might find eye-opening.

Consider that Francona used the slow-footed Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot 85 times this season even as his own front office thought the Indians might be losing too much offense. Cleveland also became the first team since the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals to lead the majors in both offensive and pitching platoon advantage.

Even though he’s unconventional, Francona’s players trust his decisions.

“He does a great job of putting us in the best situations possible,” outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall said earlier this postseason. Of Chisenhall’s 418 plate appearances, 366 (87.5 percent) came versus right-handed pitchers, against whom he has a .784 OPS. Chisenhall has a .642 OPS against left-handers.

But it’s more than just giving his players an edge that has earned Francona their trust. Miller said it's his ability to communicate the basis for decisions that helps players better understand.

“It’s all about finding a way to communicate that information in a way that players can use it,” Miller said. “I think if you throw a bunch of numbers at us that we don’t understand, it doesn’t do us any good. But when we have a manager like Tito who is almost translating that as it gets to us and he communicates well with guys ... whatever it is, he’s just a natural when it comes to that and we’re thankful we have him because he’s really good at that.”

As Epstein pointed out, Francona seems to improve his decision-making in the postseason. He doesn’t hesitate to give his starting pitcher a quick hook, nor is he afraid to use his best reliever in the fifth inning.

“Just a fantastic postseason manager and he’s done that same thing here in this postseason,” Epstein said. “We know what we’re up against.”