Chicago Cubs

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.

Cubs World Series Baby-Boom in full swing

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USA TODAY

Cubs World Series Baby-Boom in full swing

Technically... the Chicago Cubs became world champions on Nov. 3, 2016 at 12:47 a.m. 

Approximately... that was nine months ago.

Theoretically... there should be a lot of Anthony's and Kris's being born in Chicago right about now. 

Now, that last part may be a bit of a stretch, but what is not a stretch is the arrival of what the Cubs organization are calling 'World Championship Babies', and what a ring that has to it. 

This upswing in births has even garnered national attention, shown below

In a press release on Monday, the Cubs celebrated this correlation by announcing that babies born around now would receive membership to the 'Newborn Fan Club' as well as a Cubs “Rookie of the Year” onesie, Cubs pinstripe beanie cap, custom-made birth certificate and personalized Wrigley Field Marquee photo.

This mass membership growth will take place today, Wed., July 26 at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, 836 W. Wellington Ave, Chicago, Ill.

Is Schwar-Bombs an acceptable first name?

How Addison Russell saved the Cubs' season...for now

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USA TODAY

How Addison Russell saved the Cubs' season...for now

As the Cubs head to the South Side Wednesday night for Game 3 of Crosstown, they sit one-half game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central and a season-high five games above .500.

But things could've been a lot different if not for Addison Russell.

The "what-if" game is a popular one among sports fans, especially around the water cooler or in the local bar. 

Joe Maddon plays that game only on rare occasions and while he didn't fully head down that path this past weekend, he did acknowledge the important role Russell and Willson Contreras have played in saving the Cubs' season.

Maddon's squad has burst out to a 9-2 start to the second half of 2017. And when asked about the team's 6-0 road trip coming out of the break, Maddon pointed to Russell's game-winning homer in the ninth inning of the first game in Baltimore — the game that started this hot stretch — and Contreras' game-saving block on a ball in the dirt in the ninth inning of the first game in Atlanta.

"That first night still, giving up that lead and then that home run by Addy, that was a real seminal moment potentially for the entire season," Maddon said. "I talked about it in Atlanta, the block by Contreras. Just two significant plays that have occurred on that recent trip.

"That could've turned that into a 4-2 trip as opposed to a 6-0 trip. Addy's homer and that block by Willson. Check out that block from Willson. It was a breaking ball from [closer Wade Davis] and it wasn't going good. It was not going good at that moment. Those are two plays on that trip that really stood out to me."

The Russell homer was key because the Cubs had burst out of the break — with freshly-acquired pitcher Jose Quintana in tow — with an 8-0 lead after the top of the third inning, but Mike Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen had allowed the Orioles back into the game. After Koji Uehara served up the tying home run in the bottom of the eighth, Russell lined a one-out shot over the left-centerfield fence off Brad Brach in the top of the ninth.

In Atlanta, Contreras' block came with the tying run on third base as Davis eventually secured the nail-biting save in a 4-3 Cubs victory.

Had the Cubs blown the lead in either game, it would've been a tough pill to swallow mentally for a team that struggled to a 43-45 record in the first half. Of course, Contreras' red-hot bat (.341 AVG, 1.133 OPS, 5 HR, 15 RBI since the Break) has helped those victories hold up.

Everybody had been looking for that "seminal moment" around the Cubs for the entire first half of the season. There are still more than two months left in the season, but if the Cubs truly have turned the corner, maybe it did all start on the field with Russell's homer.

"When the manager says at a certain point, the season completely turned on a good note for the team and you're part of that, that's a huge compliment, especially coming from Joe Maddon," Russell said. "Joe has a pretty good reason behind everything that he says. In that situation, just trying to put the barrel on the ball. 

"Get in position to have the other guys knock me in and get on base. That's kinda my goal. It's a huge complimient that he said that. I'm gonna have to ask him a little more about that."

While the Cubs' season may have turned around on Russell's shot to left center on July 14, he had actually started his own personal turnaround more than a month prior.

Since June 11, Russell has hit .291 with an .888 OPS in 35 games, collected 17 extra-base hits (11 doubles, six homers) and 15 RBI.

After a trying couple of months to start 2017 — both on a personal and professional level — Russell's season line looks very similar to last year's total. He has the same batting average (.238) and his slugging percentage is only two points off (.415 compared to .417 last season). The on-base percentage is lower (.304 compared to .321 in 2016) as Russell's walk rate is down, but the 23-year-old shortstop is proving that his slow start is in the past.

The confidence of a big, possibly season-saving home run could help give him a boost, as well.

"[Maddon] kind of gets a sense of how I go about my business and how I go about my game in general," Russell said. "Maybe he saw something that was ready to come out and just go with that the rest of the season."