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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?

'The Javy Baez Show' hits the All-Star Game, with El Mago taking his place among baseball's best

'The Javy Baez Show' hits the All-Star Game, with El Mago taking his place among baseball's best

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Asked not long ago how special Javy Baez is, Joe Maddon brought up another name: Jon Lester.

To paraphrase the Cubs’ skipper: When a player with the experience of Lester is raving about Baez, you know he’s something special.

It doesn’t take a lot to realize that Baez can do things on a baseball field that few others can. The man nicknamed “El Mago” is pulling a new rabbit out of his hat each and every game, it seems, leaving even those the closest to him consistently wowed.

And, yeah, Lester thinks pretty highly of his Cubs and National League All-Star teammate, saying Monday that Baez is the best infielder he’s played with during his big league career, now in its 13th season.

“I think he is, probably, the best infielder I’ve ever played with. That speaks pretty highly,” Lester said the day prior to the Midsummer Classic in D.C. “I’ve played with some pretty good ones: (Dustin) Pedroia, Mike Lowell, (Adrian) Beltre at third. These guys are pretty special defenders and players, and I think Javy’s athleticism makes him above and beyond those guys.

“How athletic he is, how he’s able to control his body. There’s times in the game where you feel like it’s almost going backwards for him it’s so slow. And the stuff he’s able to do at the plate, defensively, you guys all see that. He’s a special player to watch. I’m just glad he’s on our side and we get to do it every day.”

Baez’s breakout campaign has him in the MVP discussion at the season’s midway point. And he’s one of the stars of these All-Star festivities, a participant in Monday’s Home Run Derby and the NL leadoff hitter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. While Cubs fans and observers have watched it all season long — Cubs teammate and fellow Derby participant Kyle Schwarber dubbed it “The Javy Baez Show” on Monday — these two days will put Baez on the national stage, one of the game’s biggest.

“I’ve seen him do some amazing things the past few years,” Reds second baseman and NL All Star Scooter Gennett said. “He couldn’t do anything that I’d be surprised (by). That’s just Javy doing some — what do they call him, ‘The Magician’ or whatever? — just doing some magic stuff. Nothing would surprise me. I’ve seen enough to be like, ‘Man, he’s extremely blessed and a really good baseball player.’”

“Javy is an electrifying player to say the least,” Houston Astros pitcher and American League All Star Gerrit Cole said. “Probably the most impressive thing outside of Javy’s glove work, which is just kind of magical in its own … I got to see him when he first came up and he knows how that first stint went in the major leagues and how he’s adjusted since he’s been there. And that’s probably the most important thing. He’s very flashy, he’s very flairy, which is great, is exciting, is attention grabbing. But his skill work and his talent is really what shines through, and he’s just a wonderful player and tough out.”

Though he paused, seemingly to take in the fact that Lester had such high praise for him, Baez himself said comparisons don’t mean much. It’s not a surprise from someone who has established himself as a unique talent not just in the current generation of ballplayers but perhaps throughout the game’s history.

“There’s a lot of comparisons with me. I just try to be myself, to be honest, out there, off the field, too,” Baez said. “There’s a lot of people who are scared to be them. I play the way I play because I do me. I do it the way I think. … I’m not trying to show anybody up. That’s the way I play, just me being me and trying to do the best for my teammates.”

The numbers and the highlight-reel plays have thrust Baez into the realm of baseball’s very best. His inclusion in the All-Star Game isn’t a surprise, it’s a necessity.

Baez said he’s hoping to learn a lot from this experience, and Lester, at his fifth All-Star Game, said the lesson should be a simple but important one.

“The biggest thing is — when I got my first All-Star Game, it makes you feel like you belong. It’s like, ‘I am pretty good,’” Lester said. “So I think to get rewarded for your hard work, to get to be able to do this, I think it’s kind of like the little pat on the back. Like, ‘Hey, good job.’ For me, it was like, ‘Maybe I am pretty good.’ It was like the big, eye-opening thing for me the first time I got to do this.

“Hopefully they (Baez and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras) see that, hopefully they feel like they are two of the best in the game and that just carries over to their game.”

Where Cubs and White Sox players will bat in All-Star lineup

Where Cubs and White Sox players will bat in All-Star lineup

The 2018 MLB All-Star Game lineups are out for the American and National League, and one former White Sox pitcher makes history.

Javier Baez, in his first All-Star appearance, was tabbed to lead off for the NL. Catcher Willson Contreras, also in his first Midsummer Classic, will hit ninth.

As for the White Sox, starting first basemen Jose Abreu is the lone Sox representative. He will bat eighth for the American League.

For both the AL and NL, the starting lineups look like this.

In a repeat of last year’s starting pitching matchup, the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and former Sox ace Chris Sale will oppose each other for the second consecutive season.

For Sale, this marks his third straight season starting the Midsummer Classic—a feat that hasn’t been done in over 50 years.