Cubs

Is Sveum the right man for the job?

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Is Sveum the right man for the job?

New Cubs manager Dale Sveum was announced at an introductory press conference Friday morning from Wrigley Field.

He said all the right things. He has the support of Theo's Trio. He fits in with what HardballTalk's Craig Calcaterra is deeming Epstein's "bald manager."

So will Sveum be the right man for the job?

I mean, it's one press conference, so I don't know. He hasn't done anything yet. The on-field play for the Cubs is still poor. They still lost 91 games last year. Sveum hasn't managed a game yet and won't for another few months.

But he talked about defense, stressing how each player should spend at least as much time on their defense as they do in the batting cage.

Not that a statement like this is so bold. The Cubs finished 2011 with 134 errors, the most in the MLB by a wide margin (10 more than runner-up Oakland). Any idiot could look at a stat sheet and know the Cubs need to stress defense in '12 (hell, I figured it out, so it can't be rocket science).

From this press conference and the other times I've seen him on camera, Sveum seems to be one of those guys that is always pretty mellow. He never gets too high or too low. Not much affects him. Which is a very good quality for a manager to have.

Oh, we just made errors on back-to-back-back plays? No need to freak out. Oh, we just hit back-to-back-to-back home runs? No need to jump for joy.

That's good for Chicago. Attitude trickles down from the manager. With the Cubs and their "Cubbie occurences" and "curses," they need a manager that won't just throw in the towel mentally when something bad goes down.

Sveum has humor. When asked about his nickname nuts, he said "It has nothing to do with my lower half. But more to do with up here," he joked as he pointed to his bald head.

Sveum will treat his players with respect, as he would treat his own son.

And when discussing the Cubs playing day games and how players complain about it, Sveum used the word "whined" instead, showing his edge and no-nonsense attitude.

As commenter Darion Denham in our live press conference stream and chat said, Sveum seems a bit like Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau in that he doesn't tolerate excuses and he wants to get better day-by-day. In this town right now, it's never bad to be like Tommy T in anything.

So there's a lot of good here. But as a Cubs fan, I've learned to temper my expectations.

Sveum talked the talk. Now it's time to walk the walk.

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: