Dale Nuts Sveum will give Cubs an identity


Dale Nuts Sveum will give Cubs an identity

MILWAUKEE Nyjer Morgans face lit up when a reporter mentioned Dale Sveum: Nutso, thats my guy!

The Milwaukee Brewers paid their respects on Friday, everyone from legendary broadcaster Bob Uecker to general manager Doug Melvin, who were seen chatting with Sveum during batting practice.

Sveum has preached that you need to play with an edge, that theres nothing worse than being a vanilla team. How can the Cubs get under a teams skin? Ask the instigator who played junior hockey in Canada.

I cant give you all my secrets, Morgan said with a smile. But you just play the game hard, play the game right, have fun with it and everythings going to happen for them.

Sveum is the kind of guy who left his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field last November and went back to Wisconsin. The new Cubs manager was the best man for a Miller Park clubhouse attendant and had planned the bachelor party for that weekend.

Sveum killed it that day, drawing upon his experience in Milwaukee and telling Cubs fans everything they wanted to hear. (He also joked that his Nuts nickname had nothing to do with my lower half.)

In Sveums mind, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together.

The catcher should fear you running into home plate dont take the easy way out and slide. Win or lose, the other team should know that theyre in for a fistfight.

Sveum said: The worst thing that happens in baseball is when we look over and say: Theyre dogs. Nobody plays hard over there.

Major League Baseball once suspended Morgan, then with the Washington Nationals, for throwing a ball into the stands and igniting a bench-clearing brawl.

Last season Morgan mocked Alberta Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals on Twitter, using his Tony Plush alter ego. But he quickly bonded with Sveum, the Brewers hitting coach at the time.

Hes just cool, calm, collected, Morgan said. Hes been in the trenches and he knows what its like to go through struggles and to have success and just keep it all together. (That) made the game a lot easier.

He had your back. And when you have a guy thats in your corner and battling for you, you cant ask for anything more.

Cubs president Theo Epstein recognized those qualities when he hired Sveum, who assembled a coaching staff with decades upon decades of experience in the majors.

A 3-11 start only reinforced Epsteins belief that Sveum could be the next Terry Francona. The Cubs have gone 3-0-2 in their last five series against the Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, all potential playoff contenders.

Theyve been a model of consistency since Opening Day, Epstein said. That was a pretty rough first couple weeks and Dale handled everything with a real calmness and confidence that I think is genuine and players pick up on that. They like playing for Dale and all the coaches.

The amount of preparation, hard work and attention to detail is as good as it gets. They deserve a lot of credit for how smoothly things have gone, and hopefully results follow.

Its hard to draw many conclusions after 32 games. Mike Quades 37-game audition in 2010 didnt turn out to be a preview of things to come in 2011.

But its easy to notice all the balls hit right into defensive shifts, the calculations made after extensive video analysis. Outside of Kerry Wood throwing his hat and glove into the Wrigley Field seats the other night, there really havent been many unscripted moments. Its pretty much been all business.

Were playing good baseball, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I think the teams on the other side of the field are recognizing that. Were playing hard on both sides of the ball and things are going to keep coming as long as we play that way.

The Cubs and Brewers woke up Friday tied for last place in the National League Central, and it will be interesting to see where this I-94 rivalry goes from here.

To be honest, Sveum said the Brewers were far more concerned with the Cardinals, and got up for those games. There were sparks between Morgan and Pujols, and Zack Greinke called Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter a phony.

Nyjer obviously did a few things that would get under anybodys skin, Sveum said. I love the guy, (but) when he gets between the lines, theres a different person that comes out sometimes.

He just has that hockey mentality (where he cant) restrain himself sometimes. But hes a wonderful kid. Hes a completely different person than (the perception). The bad thing about Nyjer is people think hes this crazed psycho or whatever. And hes one of the most polite, nicest kids youll ever be around.

Greinkes one of the most brutally honest guys youre ever going to be around, and probably said some things he wished he wouldnt have said.

But thats just the rivalry that comes out sometimes. You try not to say stuff that youll regret. Thats (their deal). Were the Chicago Cubs. Were not the Brewers. Thats not our concern anymore.

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Saturday afternoon, after eliminating the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Game 4 on Friday night, the Blackhawks learned they'll be facing the Vegas Golden Knights and very likely a certain former Hawks goalie in Round One.

Robin Lehner was in net for the Knights in their overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche to help Vegas grab the No. 1 seed in the West for Round One, pitting them against the Blackhawks, who were the No. 12 seed in the qualifying round.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner unveils new pads

Lehner has seen the majority of the starts in net for the Knights at the beginning of the postseason tournament over three-time Stanley Cup champ Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk during the 2019-20 regular season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is unreal

Following Saturday's game, Lehner was asked about facing the Blackhawks and his former goalie partner Corey Crawford in Round One and if playing with them earlier this season carries an advantage.

"I don't know. All I know is it's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, the whole organization... but I think I really like it here (with Vegas), we're a great hockey team."

The 29-year-old netminder got off to a hot start with Vegas ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 going 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. 

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.

AL Central race: For White Sox, solving Indians pitching a tall task but a must

AL Central race: For White Sox, solving Indians pitching a tall task but a must

The Cleveland Indians have the best starting rotation in baseball.

And while that might have been an opinion back before the abbreviated 2020 campaign got underway, it’s a fact at the moment. The Indians’ starting staff leads baseball with a 2.09 ERA and 124 strikeouts. Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale — not to mention Adam Plutko, who’s also made one nice start — have dominated opposing lineups.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest White Sox news and analysis.

Often, they’ve dominated the White Sox lineup.

The South Siders have seen Cleveland’s starting pitchers five times in their first 15 games of the season, and an offense that was talked up as so capable before and since Opening Day has done very little against this superb collection of hurlers. A 2-3 record against the Indians following Saturday’s 7-1 defeat could certainly be much worse. But in five games against them, the White Sox have scored a total of 13 runs. And only five of those came against the starting pitchers.

The first two games of this weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field have featured more exemplary starting-pitching performances by the Indians. Civale threw seven one-run innings Friday night, and Plesac was again excellent with six shutout innings Saturday afternoon. Neither performance matched what they did against this same White Sox team a little more than a week ago in Cleveland. But it certainly was enough to keep the White Sox bats quiet.

And Bieber, currently running away with the AL Cy Young Award — he’s got an 0.83 ERA and 35 strikeouts in three starts — awaits in Sunday night's nationally televised showdown.

If the White Sox are going to keep pace in the race for the AL Central crown, they’ll need to figure out a way to solve these Indians pitchers.

“These are the types of guys we have to get after,” manager Rick Renteria said after Saturday’s game. “To win, you have to put together the focus, the concentration. It’s not easy, trust me, when you’re facing guys like this. But you have to put things together enough to start a line and keep it moving and scratch away and claw and score a run or two here and there.”

RELATED: White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

The much discussed White Sox lineup, remade during the offseason with the additions of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara and the promotion of Luis Robert, has certainly showed what it’s capable of this season. In the second game of the year, it hung 10 runs on the Minnesota Twins. In back-to-back wins over the Kansas City Royals last weekend, the White Sox exploded for a combined 20 runs on 35 hits.

And granted, this lineup has not been at full strength for even one game this season. The injury bug has chomped down on the White Sox and not let go. Mazara, the team's starting right fielder, started the season on the injured list. Currently, starting shortstop Tim Anderson and starting second baseman Nick Madrigal are on the IL. Encarnación is sidelined, too.

But the White Sox bats have been cool for a bit now, with just nine runs scored in the last five games against the Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. That hasn’t always equaled losses, and they’re 2-3 in those five games, with the pitching coming through to carry the day in certain spots.

Unfortunately for the White Sox, though, a cold snap, a growing list of injuries, three games against Cleveland’s elite pitching and, as Renteria pointed out Saturday, a little fatigue in this most unusual of seasons makes for an unproductive recipe.

“We are facing a club that has solid pitching, really good pitching. And we have to bring our game up,” Renteria said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a little fatigued or tired. Nobody cares about that. The reality is you have to be able to put together and string together really good at-bats, which is not easy to do, but it’s what we have to do.

“I think that maybe today’s game will be a great learning tool for us to understand. No one is going to give us anything. You don’t just turn on and turn off offenses. They are grown through a process, focus, concentration and a prepared attack. When we do that, we are really good.

“For me it’s just a blip. We have to keep playing and keep fighting. There’s not a whole lot of time left, and we are going to try to do the best we possibly can and keep moving forward in a positive direction.”

RELATED: Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

Since they reported to the South Side in early July for “Summer Camp,” the players have talked about this odd season, how in a 60-game sprint to October every game matters and means a lot. Modest winning streaks and losing streaks can tug an entire season in any direction. Games against division foes mean even more, with each set of 10 games against division rivals representing a full sixth of the schedule.

The White Sox seemed capable of going toe to toe with the Twins and Indians when the season began, though the task was always going to be a tall one. The Twins have one of baseball’s most dangerous lineups, and the White Sox can attest after a pair of opening-weekend thumpings those bats delivered. The Indians have the game’s finest rotation, and the White Sox know that well, too, after five games against their top-flight chuckers.

Despite the dominance of the Cleveland rotation, the two teams have taken turns in second place in the division standings over the first two games of this series. It's not like the AL Central has slipped away from the White Sox just yet.

Indeed, they have the potential to be the most balanced among the group of division contenders, with a potentially potent lineup and a potentially fearsome pitching staff. Injuries are no excuse, especially when the whole league’s going through the same thing, but it’s difficult to live up to that full potential when so many key cogs are on the injured list.

The White Sox won’t use that to wriggle free of any responsibility, of course, and they’ll keep on trying to solve the Twins’ lineup and the Indians’ rotation. If they want to live up to the high expectations they set for themselves before the season started, they’ll have to. There's no other option.

“We’ll have to regroup and go back after them,” Renteria said. “These are the type teams we’ll have to beat. We have to string things together and pull out some victories.”