Can Sveum break Sorianos bad habits?

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Can Sveum break Sorianos bad habits?

MESA, Ariz. Theres a wide gap between the perception of Alfonso Soriano from afar and how hes viewed inside the Cubs clubhouse.

Teammates love Sorianos energy, the way he yells out Hey babe! as he walks around the room. Fans hate how hell stand at home plate, admiring a ball that bounces off the wall.

Sorianos far from the only modern player who poses like that, but hes the 136 million lightning rod. The Cubs will live with it, because hes owed 18 million annually through 2014. Theyll need him, because this roster is filled guys who are coming off down years or have never done it before.

For all his flaws as a player, Soriano generated 26 homers and 88 RBIs last season. Manager Dale Sveum says this could be your cleanup hitter.

You need that kind of bat in your lineup, Sveum said. The guy works his butt off all the time. Theres no doubt that the fans lost a little faith in him (because of) some things he does. But I think the fans have to understand that hes probably the hardest-working guy in the clubhouse, so thats always refreshing, and players love him to death.

Hes the most prolific guy in our lineup. (Hes) done it before. Hes a big part of this lineup that has to produce.

Soriano, Starlin Castro and Junior Lake hadnt reported to the complex by Thursday, but all three players from the Dominican Republic are expected at Fitch Park for Fridays first full-squad workout.

This front office hired Sveum, in part, because he was able to stand up to players as a Red Sox coach within Bostons superstar culture.

Sveum has promised to hold every player accountable, no matter how much money hes making. Sveum has vowed that no player who jogs down the line will be able to walk back into the dugout without hearing something from the manager.

The diehards at the Cubs Convention loved it when Sveum answered one fan question by saying that you might have to bench guys who embarrass the organization.

Sveum seems to have a more realistic view of Soriano. Sveum remembers Bill Hall watching a few balls that didnt go out with the Milwaukee Brewers.

It wasnt that (Hall) didnt play hard, Sveum said. They feel bad (afterward). Thats a natural major-league habit. Its very hard to hit fly balls that are almost home runs, or you think might be a home run, and sprint to first base.

Sure, you want that to happen, but some of those things (are) actually hard to break in the heat of a battle. Its the other things: We want to be able to run balls out to the left side of the field. We want to be able to stretch singles into doubles, take hard turns (and) run the bases really hard.

I know the fans dont like that, but sometimes they have to understand thats a habit.

So the Cubs are going to be aggressive, but can you break the habit? Well, thats like just about everything else in building Theo Epsteins foundation for sustained success.

Yeah, you talk about it and make sure that hopefully in that spur of the moment he thinks about maybe something I said, Sveum answered before letting out a small laugh. But thats not always the case. A lot of things are tougher than just talking about it.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”