LOS ANGELES — Dale Sveum nursed a cup of coffee the morning after his most satisfying win as Cubs manager. Sitting behind a desk, inside the white walls of a cramped office, he had thought about his coaching staff, the players who went through 101 losses last season and all the preparation that goes into each night.
The lineup wore out Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, Travis Wood again looked like an All-Star and the bullpen preserved a 3-2 victory in front of Tuesday’s sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium. For a few hours, they slowed down the hottest team in baseball.
The Dodgers are the kind of big-market giant the Cubs dream about being again one day. Until then, the organization can be divided into those who get to write off major league seasons and those who have to put on the uniform every day and wear what looks like a last-place finish.
The Cubs woke up on Wednesday with 36 losses after leading, 27 one-run losses and 13 losses in the last at-bat, as well as the hangover from another blowout at the trade deadline.
“That’s the frustrating thing,” Sveum said. “It’s one thing if you have a horrible pitching staff or something to where you just can’t hold teams down. But obviously all year we’ve had a lot more quality starts (77, fourth-most in the National League). The bullpen isn’t close to being as bad as it was last year.
“You hate to keep beating it up, because the players hear it. But the bottom line is when you hit .220 with men in scoring position, in those close games you just can’t add on. You get people out there, and you lose by two, you lose by one. The ‘cyber’ people don’t say it’s a big, big stat. But it’s a big stat. It’s timely hitting that’s going to end up winning a lot of games for you.”
Sveum has a tendency to mangle “sabermetrics” and call it “cybermetrics.” But there’s no doubt that the numbers and matchups help guide his decision-making process. He has a Belichickian taste in fashion and love for breaking down video, interpreting spray charts and hot zones.
Part of this is being clutch, and part of it is having a Triple-A lineup that wouldn’t look out of place in Des Moines. It doesn’t help when the front office trades away 40 percent of the rotation in Matt Garza and Scott Feldman, a good role player like David DeJesus and $136 million man Alfonso Soriano.
“It’s not a mystery that things get a little haywire after those trades,” Sveum said. “But we know the process, and we’ll reap the rewards next year or the year after that because of the trades and the people we got.”
Riding one of those hot streaks, Soriano admired the 399th and 400th home runs of his career on Tuesday night, giving him 11 bombs and 33 RBIs in his first 30 games back with the Yankees.
“It’s tough to lose Soriano,” Sveum said. “The guy’s going to end up with 30 (homers) and probably 100 RBI again at 37 years old. Those things are tough, but we also understand them and how the process works. But it’s no coincidence things do get a little haywire.”
In the dog days of August, the Cubs will have to settle for nights where Wood outduels Kershaw or Tim Lincecum or hits a grand slam off Jake Peavy to beat another Cy Young winner.
The “cyber” crowd won’t want to hear this either, but Sveum believes Wood and Jeff Samardzija are big-game pitchers who have value that can’t be measured.
“It’s reality,” Sveum said. “It’s hard to come across people like Samardzija. You get Samardzija into the big games, he’s always stepped up and done real well. It’s hard to find the heart and competiveness that those kind of people have on a daily basis and the ability to make adjustments and learn and trust the game report.”