Dale Sveum's first year as the Chicago Cubs' manager has seen a combination of inexperience and mistakes that have led the team to the worst record (28-49) in Major League Baseball. The sheer lack of talent is mostly to blame, but Sveum has played a major role as well.
It's his first full season as a manager in the league, and it shows. His inexperience has led to several questionable actions through the first half of the season.
Here are his top five most puzzling decisions thus far.
Heading into 2012, expectations were low for the rebuilding Cubs.
However, resting starters in an early-season game against an arch-rival is inexcusable.
Just nine games into the year, and with a scheduled day off following the Sunday game, Sveum turned in an interesting lineup card.
The lineup was without Alfonso Soriano, Bryan LaHair, David DeJesus and Darin Barney.
LaHair and DeJesus are both quality lefties, and the Cubs faced right-hander Jake Westbrook in the game, which they lost 10-3. Cubs FC Tommy Stokke wrote a full piece on the questionable move back in April.
The number of regular starters that were out, the upcoming off day, the deciding game of a rivalry series and the time of year provide a head-scratching combination.
The bullpen has been one of the weakest parts of the Cubs this year, and though players like Carlos Marmol have struggled mightily, Sveum hasn't helped with his constant role changes.
If Marmol needs to be showcased so he can be traded, let him pitch until he gets back on track.
If Rafael Dolis is the closer of the future, let him work through his issues against major league batters.
This would be the season to experiment. If those two aren't effective enough, put in James Russell or Shawn Camp and give them a permanent shot.
Instead, Sveum has rotated these four in a closer carousel, and there is no structure to the bullpen. Keep Marmol in the closer role. He can only increase his value before the Cubs try to shop him later this month.
In a May 14th game, again against the rival Cardinals, the Cubs were tied 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning with men on first and second with nobody out.
The Cubs' best hitter, Starlin Castro, was up to bat.
Instead of letting the No. 3 batter try to give the Cubs the lead, Sveum ordered a sacrifice bunt.
Geovany Soto was the runner at second, and the Cards went third to first for a rally-killing double play. Castro, batting .331 at the time, hasn't laid down a sacrifice bunt since 2010.
Here's Sveum's response to the play:
"He's a nice hitter, don't get me wrong," he said. "But you're going to be asked to bunt—you can do things. You can run. You can get a bunt down, and guys screw it up. You see bunts screwed up as much as anything. You have pitchers involved in plays and you have things happen. You're not just bunting sometimes to bunt."
That sounds like a viable explanation for some situations, but not when Castro or another middle-of-the-order hitter is up.
No other No. 3 hitter would have the bat taken out of his hands in this situation.
On June 16 in a game against the Boston Red Sox, Alfonso Soriano was up to bat with two on and two out with the Cubs down by three runs.
He hit a line drive to third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who bobbled and dropped the ball, but then threw out Soriano by a good 80 feet. Soriano barely left the batter's box. Here's the video.
When asked about it after the game, Sveum defended Soriano, saying:
It's one of those things where 100 percent of every player in the history of baseball would do the same thing.
The lack of hustle could be understood due to the line drive, and Soriano has never been one to hustle on a play. Both of these things are irrelevant, though, because Sveum sent a message after the game, and it was the wrong one.
Instead of making a statement by criticizing Soriano and demanding complete effort as he did with Castro's defense, he gave an excuse. Especially for a young and inexperienced team, running out every play and giving maximum effort should be at the top of the manager's expectations.
The most recent and possibly the most puzzling of the decisions made by Dale Sveum this season is the one he made before the game on June 22.
Left-hander Joe Saunders was scheduled to start against the Cubs that night, but he couldn't get warmed up and was a late scratch. Josh Collmenter, a righty, took the start in his place.
Sveum, still having time to change his lineup that was set up to face a lefty, decided to do nothing instead.
He left David DeJesus (.313 avg, .388 obp vs RHP) and Bryan LaHair (.329 avg, .403 obp vs. RHP) on the bench. This is even more unusual because Sveum typically relies heavily on lefty vs. righty matchups. After the game, he explained his decision:
"I had time to change it," Sveum said. "It was more Collmenter, we had no prior history. None of our hitters had ever faced him. He's so funky. … I've seen last year (in Milwaukee) when no one ever faced him before. He's a completely different pitcher. He's a guy you need to face three, four or five times before you get a reading on that arm slot."
His vague justification for the lack of a lineup change is confusing, and again, Sveum didn't give the Cubs their best chance to win.