Looking to the future, Cubs bet big on Sveum

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Looking to the future, Cubs bet big on Sveum

MILWAUKEE The Cubs werent looking for a celebrity manager. Their brand name is now Theo Epstein.

The search was quick, clean and efficient everything the new president of baseball operations wants this organization to be.

It ended Thursday with Dale Sveum agreeing to a three-year deal with an option for 2015. The 52nd manager in franchise history will be introduced Friday morning at a Wrigley Field news conference.

The sum of Sveums experience as a major-league manager is 12 games with the Brewers in 2008 plus a first-round playoff exit after Ned Yost was fired. The interim manager was passed over for Ken Macha and it happened again last year with Ron Roenicke.

Back then, did Sveum ever think hed be the center of attention for two iconic teams?

So much is about timing, and here it all played to Sveums advantage. The bench is short for experienced major-league managers now available. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux didnt want to uproot his family from Texas.

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer had confidence in the process that revealed Terry Francona and Joe Maddon as the two finalists some eight years ago in Boston. The Red Sox, of course, cast their shadow over everything.

When Epstein flew to Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 2 to fire Mike Quade in person, he had already spent weeks doing background checks on potential replacements for Francona. Two days later, Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin was brought in for the first interview.

The Brewers media guide lists Sveums nickname as Nuts. That bullet point didnt match up with his low-key attitude when Cubs executives put him in front of the media on Nov. 7.

The only time I really get too excited or emotional is when Im arguing with umpires, Sveum said. Other than that, I dont show a lot of emotion. So probably stoic would be (a) better way (to describe) my personality.

One trait that you have to have as a manager is never to let your players see one way or the other how youre feeling. Whether youre nervous or whether youre mad, whatever, I think its a bad trait to show body language to the players nowadays.

That familiar clubhouse presence Sveum was the third-base coach on the 2004 championship team in Boston appealed to the Cubs and Red Sox. He played parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues, which gives him instant credibility.

Sveum emerged as an All-American quarterback at Pinole Valley High School in San Franciscos East Bay region. He turned down a scholarship offer to play football and baseball at Arizona State University.

The Brewers made Sveum a first-round pick in 1982. Five years later, he generated 25 homers and 95 RBI. He was never the same player again after colliding with teammate Darryl Hamilton and breaking his leg in 1988. He has unique insight into the game.

Sveum widened his perspective during six seasons as a coach third base, bench, hitting on the Milwaukee staff.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin got used to showing up at his Miller Park office and finding Sveum already there beginning his work shift. Melvin called Sveum passionate and well-prepared, someone who knows players and has a competitive edge.

People whove known Epstein for a long time describe him as extremely competitive, someone whos always looking to get ahead and stay there. He beat his old team to Sveum.

Everything sharply came into focus this week in Milwaukee, where the owners and general managers assembled for their meetings. The Cubs jumped in front of the Red Sox and met with Sveum on Tuesday night.

Sveum then had lunch with Boston ownership on Wednesday, hours before Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts would check into the Pfister Hotel. Maddux couldnt convince himself he really wanted the job and would withdraw his name from consideration.

That night the Red Sox signaled they would expand their search and word began to spread that Sveum had an offer from the Cubs.

Epstein and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington left the meetings on Thursday with an agreement to revisit the compensation negotiations after next months Rule 5 draft. Getting Sveum to Chicago wasnt going to be the drawn-out process it was for Epstein.

The long-range plan is building from within, and the managers office will be on the ground floor. Sveum will turn 48 next week and can grow into the job. The Cubs wont need him for the headlines or to sell tickets. Everyone in the room will know: This is Epsteins guy.

Why Dodgers could be a playoff nightmare for Cubs

Why Dodgers could be a playoff nightmare for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – Imagine a Los Angeles Dodgers team doing more with less getting Clayton Kershaw back to start Game 1 of a playoff series. That could become a nightmare matchup for the Cubs, if Rich Hill stays healthy and continues his late-career renaissance, and if rookie phenom Julio Urias saves enough bullets for October.   

“They would be a tough team,” said Ben Zobrist, a World Series hero last year with the Kansas City Royals, the switch-hitter the Cubs signed with October specifically in mind. “We would have our hands full because of all the lefties they have. 

“We have to do a better job against lefties overall – and figuring out how to just get more runners on base. We tend to rely on the homer a little bit too much. And in those situations, (we) have to find a way to just take our hits and hit line drives around the park.”

On Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, the Cubs didn’t have any answers for Brock Stewart, a 24-year-old right-hander out of Illinois State University who matched $155 million lefty Jon Lester for five scoreless innings. The Dodgers manufactured a 1-0 victory, and might have swept the best team in baseball out of Chavez Ravine if not for Kris Bryant’s MVP game on Friday night.

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“They have a veteran group on the field,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re always able to come up with another pitcher somehow. They got a really good bullpen. For right now, they’ve been utilized a lot, so I don’t know how that’s going to hold up, but they are good.”

Maddon couldn’t resist taking a few passive-aggressive shots, but he did compare this Los Angeles bullpen to the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series and gave him a championship ring as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach.
  
Kershaw (11-2, 1.79 ERA) appeared to be rolling toward his fourth National League Cy Young Award when he went on the disabled list with lower back pain in late June.

“Kershaw coming off a back injury, you just don’t know,” Maddon said. “Hill’s good. He’s reinvented. He’s a curveball pitcher and all that kind of good stuff. So, of course, they can be good.”

Maddon wondered how Urias – who settled down after a rocky start to win a 3-2 game on Saturday – would hold up at the age of 20 after throwing only 80-plus innings combined last year at four different minor-league affiliates. 

“The biggest concern would probably be that he would run out of gas,” Maddon said, “not being used to pitching that late into a year. And I know they’re mindful. I know they’re going to do things to restrict him, whatever. But that would be the biggest concern there.”

[RELATED: With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?] 

The Dodgers (73-57) built a lineup around professional hitters like Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. They have a two-way catcher (Yasmani Grandal), their own 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Corey Seager) and a lights-out closer (Kenley Jansen).

“They’re in first place,” Lester said. “I don’t see why they should be overlooked. I don’t feel like they’re overlooked. Being a part of West Coast baseball for a couple months (with the Oakland A’s), I think really everything on the West Coast gets overlooked. I think it’s the time difference and a lot of other factors that are going on. But they’re a good team. They’ve been a good team.”

Maybe the Dodgers will expend too much energy trying to fend off the San Francisco Giants, and there are conditionals to Kershaw, Hill and Urias. But that left-handed-heavy rotation could mean the Cubs will be slamming their bats and helmets in frustration in October.  

“I’m not there yet,” Maddon said. “I’m not worried about the Dodgers. I’m worried about getting our guys healthy and us playing the game properly. If it comes to that, I would be more than happy. I would be ecstatic about facing them in the latter part of the season. They can throw as many lefties as they want. They’re good, but I can’t worry about the Dodgers.” 

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs return home to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN at 7:05 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: Steven Brault (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (16-5, 2.62 ERA)

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

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Theme trip: Cubs break down at Dodger Stadium with miscommunication between Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist

Theme trip: Cubs break down at Dodger Stadium with miscommunication between Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon watched John Lackey board the team bus on Sunday morning wearing a Team USA onesie. The Cubs manager later noticed Aroldis Chapman in pajamas in the clubhouse on his way out to the dugout for his pregame media session at Dodger Stadium.
 
“We’ve created our own little culture, our own little identity,” Maddon said. “I just love the fact that they buy into those moments. Your stars are buying into it.”
 
The Cubs are in their own world, followed like rock stars on the road, freed from baseball’s unwritten rules and checked out from the daily anxiety and scoreboard-watching stress during a normal pennant race. 

But the Cubs weren’t in a playful mood after a 1-0 loss, even as they changed into their onesies – Mr. Peanut, Yoda, Stars and Stripes, camouflage – for the flight home from the West Coast. Almost exactly a year after Jake Arrieta threw his no-hitter here, the Cubs had their in-house TV crew shooting the postgame scene inside the locker room – look at us! – while Dodger Stadium security kicked out the Chicago reporters waiting to take pictures outside the clubhouse.   

The Cubs got a reminder that the Dodgers are a team to be reckoned with, that every-pitch focus matters, that communication will be essential in tight playoff games. That’s what this felt like, a crowd of 44,745 erupting in the eighth inning after a replay review that lasted 96 seconds confirmed the call on the field.

The Cubs lost their composure, Trevor Cahill hitting Andrew Toles with a pitch and then jamming Howie Kendrick. Cahill fielded the groundball and threw it into right field. An intentional walk to Corey Seager loaded the bases, setting up a battle between Carl Edwards Jr. and the heart of the Los Angeles lineup.

The rookie unleashed a 97-mph fastball and struck out Justin Turner on a foul tip. Edwards then went right back at Adrian Gonzalez, inducing a chopper toward third baseman Javier Baez, who made the split-second decision to throw to second, where Seager’s right foot crashed into second just before Ben Zobrist’s left foot touched it.

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“We just didn’t communicate,” Baez said. “I completely forgot about who was running down the line. We weren’t holding at first with the bases loaded. Obviously, he had like a huge lead. But in the moment, I was going back with the groundball and I saw Zo going full speed to the bag.”

But Zobrist had been playing deeper in right field to defend Gonzalez, a left-handed slugger and a slow runner. The margin for error is razor-thin when the Cubs needed 10 innings to secure a comeback win on Friday night – and the Dodgers responded by winning one-run games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

“I feel like the responsibility falls on me being the veteran,” Zobrist said. “It’s a tough play. It’s a reaction play. It’s a feel play. But if we communicate ahead of time, then he knows right away when he catches the ball, you go to first base with it. 

“He can’t (put) the blame on himself. It’s everybody out there. It’s more my responsibility being the older guy out there. He’s still very young and playing all over the place. And sometimes we can all get, I guess, a little bit lackadaisical with our communication.”  

If anything, Maddon was more bothered by Baez not running out a pop-up in the fifth inning, part of an 0-for-4 day and a 3-for-27 road trip that to this point had highlighted his Gold Glove defense. 

“This kid has as much instinct for the game as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Maddon said. “He just misread the moment right there. I would like to believe they’re going to communicate in the future.”

The Cubs would still leave Los Angeles with a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, their magic number to clinch the division down to 20 after a 5-4 road trip. With such a huge cushion, the Cubs also got a chance to remember what it’s like to play in front of a huge crowd where every pitch has consequences.  

“I don’t think that really matters,” said Jon Lester, who got the no-decision after six scoreless innings and didn’t look thrilled to be wearing a onesie. “Everybody here has been in playoff situations now. It’s kind of like we don’t really have to prep for anything anymore. These are situations now that guys are used to. Just go play.”