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Dale Sveum's takeaways after Royals beat Mets team that shut down Cubs

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Dale Sveum's takeaways after Royals beat Mets team that shut down Cubs

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Dale Sveum has been in this game long enough to know how it works.

When the Cubs fired Sveum after 96 losses in 2013, the story became about his tough-love approach being too tough, some personality quirks and how the manager’s hitting philosophy clashed with Theo Epstein’s front office.

When the Kansas City Royals won the World Series last year, the narrative shifted into Sveum being the common-sense hitting coach who helped a young core of players grow up and figure out how to beat the New York Mets team that shut down the Cubs in the playoffs.

Sveum never converted to Small Ball or pretended he had a super-secret blueprint to attack Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and the power pitching that swept the Cubs out of the National League Championship Series. 

Sveum’s low-key news conferences and brutal honesty didn’t always play well with his bosses and players in Chicago. But he’s always been willing to answer direct questions and explain big-picture concepts in detail.

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— “It comes (down) to personnel,” Sveum said Wednesday before Kansas City rolled to a 10-0 Cactus League win over the Cubs at Surprise Stadium. “It’s not like ‘The Royals Way’ of hitting.

“Eight years from now, we could have different personnel where we’re going to have to take another track. But because of our ballpark, because of our (hitting profiles), we have to really concentrate on putting the ball in play and being good in 3-2 counts. We’re not going to walk much.

“We do have the hand-eye coordination where we do put the ball in play. We’re not going to hit home runs. We’re just not going to do that at our ballpark. Yeah, you put our team in Houston or Miller Park or Wrigley on nice days ... we’d hit 160, maybe 200 home runs. But in our park, we know that we have to do things. We have to get the line moving.”

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— The Cubs understand they will never become the Royals, but they hoped to change their offensive identity by investing $240 million in Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist this offseason.

The Cubs tried to trade for Zobrist last summer but didn’t have the kind of blue-chip pitching prospect (Sean Manaea) the Oakland A’s wanted. Zobrist became a trade-deadline difference-maker, hitting .303 with an .880 OPS during Kansas City’s magical playoff run. 

“He brings a lot of things (to the table as) a switch-hitter that can drive the ball,” Sveum said. “He’ll give you a good at-bat all the time.

“It makes the other manager do different things. The biggest thing (for us) was he just solidified our lineup. It was just another threat from the left side of the plate. On a constant basis, it made the pitchers work harder. 

“People always want to kind of come up with that ’04 and ’05 Red Sox lineup. Theo was always (about that). I’m like: ‘Theo, come on, dude.’ First of all, we had like three or four switch-hitters. One day we get (bleeping) eight left-handers in the lineup and our only righty was Manny Ramirez. Not a bad lineup. The next day, we could have eight right-handers and our left-hander was David Ortiz. And they were all 30 years old and in their prime and obviously pretty good, too. You fell into that lineup. Don’t think that’s ever happening again.

“But it does really make your lineup a lot tougher to get through when you can put (a guy like Zobrist) and more left-handers (in there).”

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— As a coach in Boston — and the manager at Wrigley Field — Sveum impressed Epstein with his ability to break down film, interpret data and create a game-planning system. Sveum said he watched the NLCS but didn’t consult with any Cubs personnel before facing the Mets.

“Obviously, I dissected that series,” Sveum said. “It’s the same kind of hitters. (The Cubs are) pretty aggressive. They do walk, obviously, more than we do and strike out a lot more. But there are some free-swingers (on both teams) and the same kind of numbers across the board on fastballs and breaking balls.

“Besides Harvey (in Game 5 throwing) a heck of a lot more fastballs (in the World Series), they pitched us pretty much the same way they pitched the Cubs. Which I thought was going to happen, because the numbers didn’t lie.”

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— Joe Maddon is the perfect manager for this team and this market. But Sveum certainly would have done better than a .392 winning percentage with this type of talent and actual big-market resources.

“You can talk until you’re blue in the face,” Sveum said. “But we have nine guys that care about winning every single day. It’s being winning hitters. That’s why people are like: ‘Oh, why did you bunt in that situation?’ Well, we’re not going to walk, so we’re going to do things.

“Everybody picks (each other) up and there’s no egos here. Nobody ever talks about stats. Nobody says: ‘Oh, I’m going to hit 30 and drive in 120 this year.’ There’s no crap like that, (which) you hear everywhere else.

“Those kind of goals get in your way. We’re just lucky to have the (Eric) Hosmers of the world. It doesn’t matter if he punches out four times or gets four hits — he’s the same guy every day.

“Our best players are pretty special people. You have the Alex Gordons of the world — they treat rookies with a lot of respect. This is one of the first teams I’ve been around where rookies are real comfortable.”

As Kansas City found out while waiting 30 years in between World Series titles, it takes time to create a culture, allow young hitters to learn from their failures and build a championship nucleus.

Or as Sveum might say: Ya think?

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.