Sveum likes the fight for wild cards

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Sveum likes the fight for wild cards

MESA, Ariz. There are so many X-factors that will go into this before it really matters, but Cubs fans looking for signs of hope got one with the extra wild card.

Theo Epstein isnt wishing for a championship. The front office will rely on the cold, hard logic of advanced video analysis, scouting information systems, and research and development to find the next cutting edge.

But there are elements of luck and randomness in the postseason. It just got a little easier to get into the tournament. The two wild cards in each league will play an elimination Game 163.

Its not something (the historians) care for, manager Dale Sveum said. But things change over the years and the more teams you can get in the playoffs, the better. You can fight longer (as a team). The organization can fight longer and put you (in position with) a couple other teams in the running to make a trade at the deadline to pick things up.

I know its a little strange, the way its going to be done, but for the most part I think its good for baseball. Theres so much parity going on now in baseball. That extra team is great.

To finally hit that World Series target, general manager Jed Hoyer has used metaphors like taking shots on goal and having more arrows to fire. You just have to keep making the postseason.

The Cubs were surprised by the restrictions on the draft and international market imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. They cant spend unlimited amounts on those signings, which were supposed to lay the foundation for sustained success.

That development wont help clear the path to October, but the labor deal does set a lower bar for the playoffs. Looking back on the past 10 National League seasons, the second wild card would have averaged almost 89 victories. That includes multiple teams that finished in third place.

The agreement also moves the Houston Astros to the American League in 2013. In the past, Cubs officials had grumbled about the postseason odds of playing in a six-team division.

As much as the Cubs are cautiously optimistic about this season the rest of the division didnt get much better, and things cant get much worse than last year this change could really be felt in 2014 and beyond

Thats when Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are supposed to be established forces and emerging leaders. The scouting and player development machine will be rolling out an assembly line of impact players.

Sveum could be growing into the job and becoming the next Terry Francona. A renovated Wrigley Field and new television deals would be juicing the Cubs economy.

For now, the trade deadline got more complicated what happens with Matt Garza? and there will be more urgency to win the division. It shouldnt hurt ratings and ticket sales across the country.

Theres no such thing as a perfect setup that satisfies everyones interest, but I think they thought through it very well, Epstein said. Its going to certainly provide a guaranteed night of drama that we wouldnt have had otherwise. It will probably create more races than it takes away in the long run. Thats probably a good thing for the game.

Setting the 'Panic City' scene for Cubs vs. Mets: Is this it for the defending NL champs?

Setting the 'Panic City' scene for Cubs vs. Mets: Is this it for the defending NL champs?

The tabloids are already asking the questions, even before the Fourth of July traffic starts, two weeks out from the All-Star Game. It’s on the New York Post’s website: “Is there anything else that can go wrong for the Mets?” And there’s this Daily News headline: “Will this week be the downfall of the 2016 Mets?”

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson delivered his “Panic City” line to the New York media last summer, right around the time Cubs manager Joe Maddon green-lit “Simon the Magician” for a performance inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse.

At the time, this looked like a potential National League Championship Series matchup, a made-for-TV, big-market battle between power pitchers and power hitters…maybe in 2017.

On July 2 last year, the Cubs finished off a three-game sweep in New York, giving them a 7-0 regular-season record against the Mets, who dropped to 40-40 before heading out to the West Coast to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at Dodger Stadium and the defending World Series champs in San Francisco.   

The Cubs responded to getting swept by the Mets in the NLCS with a spending spree in free agency that approached $290 million, fueling World Series-or-bust, Embrace-The-Target expectations, moving to 25 games over .500 with a 9-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park.

The Cubs (51-26) and Mets (40-37) will now play seven times between Thursday night in Queens and July 20 at Wrigley Field, which should give us a better idea of whether or not Alderson can pull another rabbit out of his hat at the trade deadline, if Maddon should be pressing the panic button on his bullpen phone and how realistic an October rematch might be. Setting the scene for this four-game series at Citi Field:

• The “Panic City” state of mind returned with this week’s revelations that Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have been pitching through bone spurs in their elbows, showing how fragile New York’s championship hopes might be. This is why the Cubs have been so focused on building with young hitters, the idea that it’s too unpredictable to plan around elbows and shoulders and when pitchers might feel healthy.

The presence of Cubs coaches Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode has almost created a cavalier attitude toward pitching and an extremely optimistic view of change-of-scenery guys and bounce-back candidates. And the Cubs understood Jon Lester had a bone chip in his left elbow when they signed him to a six-year, $155 million megadeal after the 2014 season.

But the Cubs have prioritized spending so much capital on their lineup – first-round picks, trade chips, free-agency dollars – because Theo Epstein’s regime sees hitters as more robust investments.

• The Mets saw what Ben Zobrist did for the Kansas City Royals in the World Series last October, toured him around the affluent suburbs in Westchester County and Connecticut during the offseason and even offered him a four-year contract that came with more guaranteed money ($60 million) than the deal the Cubs put together ($56 million).

Zobrist has cooled off in June (.672 OPS) after a red-hot May (1.137 OPS), but is in position to be the NL’s starting All-Star second baseman. The Mets quickly shifted gears at the winter meetings, trading a spare pitcher (Jon Niese) to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Neil Walker, who’s already hit 14 homers in his final season before free agency. The balance of power in the NL East, however, might have shifted when Daniel Murphy (.349 average, .964 OPS) – the Mr. October who crushed the Cubs in the playoffs – signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Washington Nationals (who just swept a three-game series against the Mets).

• A full season of Yoenis Cespedes (18 homers, 45 RBI through 70 games this year) hasn’t dramatically changed New York’s offensive profile. The Mets entered Wednesday ranking 13th out of the NL’s 15 teams in runs scored (274, or 129 less than the Cubs). Corner infielders David Wright (neck surgery) and Lucas Duda (stress fracture in his lower back) are on the disabled list while catcher Travis d’Arnaud missed almost two months with a strained rotator cuff.

• The owners of professional sports franchises and the executives running those teams always talk about doing things the right way – and then act out of self-interest. It will be that way if the New York Yankees actually sell and the Cubs put a second-chance spin on closer Aroldis Chapman, who began this season serving a 30-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.

The Mets already felt desperate enough to bring back Jose Reyes on a minor-league deal after he was arrested on domestic violence charges, served a 52-game suspension and got released by the Colorado Rockies. Reyes – a homegrown Met who turned 33 this month and is five years removed from his last All-Star selection – could join the team this weekend in New York.

• As a polished, left-handed college hitter, Michael Conforto certainly fit the profile as the Cubs weighed their options with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. But the Cubs wanted Kyle Schwarber, with Epstein in particular developing a man crush on the Indiana University catcher/outfielder. The Mets grabbed Conforto with the No. 10 pick and watched the fast-track outfielder from Oregon State University become a catalyst for last year’s World Series surge. 

Well, the Mets just demoted Conforto to Triple-A Las Vegas over the weekend, another reminder to appreciate how many young players the Cubs have graduated to the big-league level, without taking it for granted (see Schwarber’s recovery from season-ending knee surgery).

“This year, I think we have a little more confidence, a little more swagger,” said Kris Bryant, the Rookie of the Year/All-Star third baseman who has lived up to the hype. “But the Mets are going to be a really good team for a long time, especially with that staff.”

Preview: John Lackey, Cubs open series with Mets tonight on CSN

Preview: John Lackey, Cubs open series with Mets tonight on CSN

John Lackey and the Cubs open a four-game series with the Mets tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet at 6:10 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: John Lackey (7-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Steven Matz (7-3, 3.29 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Road Ahead: Cubs turn things around following three-game sweep

Road Ahead: Cubs turn things around following three-game sweep

Before arriving in Cincinnati, the Cubs had lost six of their last seven games.

It seems that the team has turned things around after sweeping the Reds in a three-game set.

CSN Cubs contributor Tony Andracki and Jonathan Joffe discuss how the Cubs were able to get things going in the right direction and look ahead to the next couple of series.