COMMENTARY | As September approaches, Chicago Cubs fans are yet again faced with the fact that every White Sox fan's favorite derogatory acronym has come to fruition.
The futility of the last two seasons on the North Side has not been debatable, but the fate of skipper at the helm of this listing ship certainly is. Dale Sveum was brought in to replace lame-duck Mike Quade, who himself took over for the detached and distant Lou Piniella. Sveum was an old-school baseball guy with an open mind, a bridge between subjective terms like "grit" and "hustle" and newfangled measurables like WAR and OPS. He was a fundamentally sound player and was brought in to remedy the increasingly frequent mental errors Cubs fans lamented.
But after watching much-heralded prospects like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo seemingly regress (both in the field and at the plate) under Sveum and Co.'s tutelage, the debate over his ability to effectively lead this team has only intensified.
The Case for Sveum to Stay
Those in favor of the Cubs' current plan cite the need to stay the course as the primary reason for Sveum's continued employment with the team, and in this they have a valid point. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have routinely backed their second-year manager, stating that they have simply not given him a talented enough roster. In time, they say, improved talent will lead to improved win totals.
The lack of production from the middle of the order and the backend of the bullpen is less about Sveum's management and more about the organization's. The revolving door that is the 25-man big-league roster has forced Sveum to burn through erasers as he writes and rewrites his lineup card, and that lack of consistency has hurt.
Sveum and his staff have worked diligently with the young players they've been handed and have made some improvements. Travis Wood is having a career year, and so is Nate Schierholtz. Several other players like Dioner Navarro and Kevin Gregg have had a resurgence under the current management. Coddled by past skippers, Starlin Castro has been treated less like a China this season and has been benched and even moved down to 8th in the batting order. After his first day off in over one full season's time, fans saw Castro's batting approach and discipline in the field improve dramatically. With time and additional talent, Dale Sveum can continue to groom this team into a contender.
The Case for Sveum to Go
The other side of the argument holds that Sveum's mismanagement of the talent he does have has led the Cubs to look worse than they really are. Despite being at or near the top of the league in home runs and extra-base hits, the Cubs are ahead of only the Astros and Marlins in batting average, hits, and on-base percentage. And if that's not bad enough, the detractors point out, the Cubs are batting an MLB-worst .222 with runners in scoring position.
While he may have given Castro a day off, fans and sportswriters alike had been calling for the move weeks before Sveum finally made the call. And while much has been made of Castro's plate discipline, or lack thereof, the aggressiveness that served him so well at the outset of his career has been tempered. Like a neutered tomcat, he has been listless, seeing more pitches but doing less with them.
Management of the bullpen has been suspect, as starters are lifted before they've worn out their usefulness and situational switches have been highly questioned. Pedro Strop's early success and Kevin Gregg's uncharacteristic dominance in the first half masked what was otherwise a poorly-run 'pen. The talent pool is shallow, yes, but that's the only thing that has kept Sveum from drowning. Throw him into deeper water, and the team might really be in trouble.
Dale Sveum is in a no-win situation. While the front office had targeted him from the start as the man to lead the rebuilding effort on the field, they also knew full well that he might turn into a sacrificial goat, er, lamb. When the dust settles, it is likely a mix of both sides of the argument: The Cubs have very little talent with which to work, but Sveum has done little to maximize it.
At this point, he is a starting pitcher who is being left in the game after surrendering 8 runs over 3 innings. There's a pitcher warming up in the bullpen and the opposing team's hurler is on deck, but the starter has to stay in the game to throw the intentional walk so that the new man doesn't start his outing throwing balls. It would appear that Sveum has thrown two balls wide of home and Theo Epstein has his foot on the top step of the dugout, readying himself for a walk to the mound.
Evan Altman spent his formative years on a farm in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
- Sports & Recreation
- Dale Sveum
- Chicago Cubs
- Starlin Castro