Dale Sveum will put the Cubs on edge

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Dale Sveum will put the Cubs on edge

Dale Sveum studied the way Joe Torre communicated in the dugout. He sensed that Tony La Russa was always thinking several innings ahead. He noticed how Jim Leyland was able to motivate.

As a player, Sveum pulled pieces from all those managers. He was once the hotshot prospect, an injury case, a fringe player, even sticking around after he was released as a bullpen catcher on the 1998 Yankees team that won the World Series.

Sveum played with future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor in Milwaukee. He worked for Terry Francona and navigated the superstar culture around the Red Sox. He watched Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun develop and get the Brewers back into the playoffs.

The guy nicknamed Nuts believes that, deep down, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together.

Thats what Sveum told the media last November, after the Cubs introduced their 52nd manager in franchise history. Soon it will no doubt be the message in Arizona, where he will run his first big-league camp.

When the guys arent hustling, you make them accountable for it, Sveum said last month. I dont really care how much money theyre making, or how many years they have in the big leagues. Theyre still embarrassing the team and theyre embarrassing the organization.

Everybodys treated the same. I dont care if youre a rookie or a guy that has 15 years in the big leagues. If youre doing something I dont like or youre embarrassing the organization, Im going to say something to you. It might come to where you have to bench guys. Thats just the bottom line.

Those applause lines were like throwing red meat to the diehards at the Cubs Convention. But will the players listen?

Pitchers and catchers officially report on Feb. 18. A group has already gathered at Fitch Park in Mesa, a short ride from Sveums offseason home. Even if the players dont yet know their new manager all that well, several have done their research.

From talking to players that (hes worked with), they have nothing but great things to say, pitcher Matt Garza said. Hes a players guy. Hes been through the grind and he knows what its like and he knows what its gonna take to win. And thats what Im excited about.

The players once lobbied for Mike Quade, another first-year manager who promised to drive home fundamental play (and didnt last).

Sveum should benefit from the instant credibility that comes from playing 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was also able to have a voice in assembling his coaching staff. He wont have to deal with Carlos Zambrano.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone knows that Theo Epstein picked Sveum to be the front man for this rebuilding project.

Sveum played for some great managers, but people have almost described him as an NFL coach with the countless hours spent breaking down video and obsessively charting plays. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin got used to showing up at his Miller Park office and finding Sveum already at work.

Sveum knows that information might yield an advantage only once a series. But all that adds up and certainly resonates with the Cubs president of baseball operations.

(Sveums) somebody who believes in hard work, preparation, respecting the game, having your teammates back, Epstein said. Whats really hard in todays baseball for managers is to connect with players and win their respect and admiration without enabling them and coddling them. Thats a typical players manager that you hear sometimes. Basically, he lets the players do whatever they want.

Often times, that becomes a popular manager, but it doesnt necessarily create the type of discipline that you need. (But) Dales been the best of both worlds. Players get to know him in that he works so hard. (They) like him and they play so hard for him. At the same time, he holds them to really high standards.

I guarantee you every single player is going to run as hard as they can, 90 feet, down to first base.

Thats what the Cubs will be selling after a winter in which they passed on the big-ticket items. Right now, this team is mostly nameless and faceless in Chicago. But it wont stay that way forever.

At the convention, a fan asked Sveum about Nyjer Morgan, an instigator for a Brewers team that wasnt shy about talking trash or choreographing over-the-top celebrations. For an organization looking for an identity, the answer was revealing.

You have to have some cockiness on the field, Sveum said. You dont want to take anything away from guys.You have to throttle it. (But) when you do irritate the other team, (it) means youre doing something (right).

You never show the other team up. But when you come to play, your team should have some kind of identity (instead) of being a vanilla team (where) youre just going out there and going through the motions. It makes a big difference to have some guys out there with personality and showing some emotion.

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

It was just over a week ago when Cubs fans were freaking out about the bullpen's struggles in a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was understandable, given Cubs relievers allowed 11 runs in the course of blowing two late leads to end that three-game sweep at the hand of the Bucs.

But since then, the Cubs bullpen has been fantastic.

In eight games entering Wednesday night's series finale with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Cubs bullpen is working on a stretch where they've posted a 1.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last 28.2 innings.

In that span — in which the Cubs are 6 — relievers have allowed six runs (five earned) while striking out 33 batters and surrendering just one homer.

They've been especially stingy over the last three games, allowing just five baserunners in eight shutout innings, including three straight scoreless frames to close out a 1-0 victory Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Wade Davis has been the anchor at the back end of the bullpen the Cubs were hoping he'd be when they traded Jorge Soler for him over the winter. Davis is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has not allowed a run in 9.1 innings, allowing just three hits and a pair of walks in the season's first month.

Setting up in front of Davis, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. have combined to allow one run and three hits in 15.1 innings.

Brian Duensing — who started the year on the disabled list after a back issue sapped his spring training — is still searching for a rhythm and has surrendered six runs and 10 hits in 6.1 innings on the season. Over the last week-and-a-half, the 34-year-old southpaw has allowed more runs (three) than the rest of the Cubs bullpen combined.

Take Duensing's numbers away from that same eight-game stretch and the Cubs bullpen has been even more fantastic — 0.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.

Of course, it's still not even May yet, so this stellar stretch is just another small sample size. 

But just like that, the Cubs suddenly have a Top 10 bullpen, tied for the Colorado Rockies for ninth in Major League Baseball with a 3.07 relief ERA.