Chicago Cubs: 10 Reasons the Improved Second Half Saved Dale Sveum's Job

Ben Stepansky@@benstepanskyCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2012

Chicago Cubs: 10 Reasons the Improved Second Half Saved Dale Sveum's Job

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    If the Chicago Cubs' season started last Friday with their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates they would be in first place in the NL Central and Dale Sveum would be on top of the world.

    Don't blink because you might miss it. The Cubs are on a four-game winning streak entering tonight's contest with the equally dismal Houston Astros. It is the first the Cubs have strung together four wins since winning the last game before the All-Star break and sweeping their first series back against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    At 55-86 and 29.5 games out of first place, it seems useless to pull any positives out of Sveum's first season as the Cubs' head coach.

    All things considered, he's done about as good a job as any manager could have done with a team that features an active roster nearly half-filled with rookies and second-year players.

    Sveum's job is secure through the start of next season, but hard work at the end of this one and in the offseason will dictate his fate in 2013.

He's Playing the Young Guys

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    Being out of the playoff chase with plenty of baseball left to play means preparing for next season.

    Part of that preparation is playing your young guns to see how they fare at the Major League level.

    Brett Jackson in center field, Josh Vitters and Luis Valbuena in the infield, and Welington Castillo behind the plate are a few of the big names in the Cubs' future. 

    In fact, all three catchers on the current roster are rookies, Steve Clevenger and Anthony Recker being the other two options.

    Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney are also young, but have established themselves as starters on the team for most, if not all, of the season.

    This Cubs team is stacked with players for future. Offseason development will be key

He Believes in the Team's Future

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    An 8-21 record in August is by no means ideal for a manager. Somehow, though, Dale Sveum finds a way to remain optimistic about the season and the team's future.

    Midway through that horrible August stretch, Sveum was quoted by Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago as truly believing a Cubs World Series win is in the near future.

    "It'll be the biggest event in sports history when we win, there is no question about that."

    Did you catch that optimism and charisma? According to Sveum it is "when" they win in it, not if:  "Yeah, that's our goal. It's going to happen, and that's just the way I think. We're building to that goal and that's a goal you have every day."

    The building blocks are beginning to appear, but a World Series team is still years away. Now it is a matter of how long Sveum sticks around to build the Cubs into the team he envisions.

He's Remaining Positive

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    Sporting the second-worst record in the Majors, it is sometimes typical to see a team fall apart in the clubhouse as well.

    Sveum easily could have become frustrated with his team, made some bad decisions, and caused off-the-field problems

    As the manager, however, he has kept positive and stayed professional throughout the many hard times in this Cubs season.

    He knows the reality of this team and has accepted it. When discussing the young players' plate discipline with the Chicago Sun-Times, he stated: 

    We’re super young right now. That’s part of the gig, and we knew it. So you’re going to struggle with those kinds of things. But if we’re going to struggle, I’d much rather see us have some kind of game plan and not go down looking so much in key situations.

    The season may have been lost but the future is bright for his Cubbies.

    Furthermore, Sveum knows he is going to be criticized by the fans and the media, but he keeps his chin up and his eyes set on the future. He relayed this message to ESPNChicago:

    I don’t really dwell on when I’m going to be judged. I’m just trying to be a guy that right now has to teach. You have to keep your coaching staff positive as well. It’s not that easy for a staff sometimes, and understand that this is where we are and these kids are trying to survive and we have to make it easier on them to survive.

He Supports His Players

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    There are always highlights to find in a season no matter how bad it might be. 

    For the Cubs, Alfonso Soriano, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija have been big time playmakers.

    In his 14th Major League season and his sixth with the Cubs, Soriano has become an afterthought among the elite players in the league.

    However, he has broken out for 28 home runs and 94 RBI with a little less than a month left to play. He is on pace to knock in the most runs in his career, 104 with the Texas Rangers in 2005.

    Sveum told Clark Globe of how he was pleasantly surprised with Soriano's output. "He's probably the biggest surprise in all of baseball, really. A lot of people had written him off. Another year older and the legs were another year older."

    Darwin Barney, on the other hand, is impressing in the field. He has played 116 errorless games at second base and could be considered for a Gold Glove.

    Sveum is certainly pulling for him. ‘‘You hope it does [help] just talking in passing. You try to do the best you can, but the actions on the field and that streak itself are impressive enough.’’

    Finally, Sveum has laid all his confidence in starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. In his first season as a starter, Samardzija has recorded a 9-13 record with a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts. The record would be better on a winning team, and Samardzija will be at the top of the rotation next season.

He Has a Plan for the Offseason

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    Player development is the obvious goal in the offseason. Much of that task will be handled by Sveum.

    President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manger Jed Hoyer will look to Sveum to enhance the team from within as they seek to add some missing pieces through trades and signings.

    As Sveum struggles to watch the young hitters swing and miss so often at the plate, he notes what is most important to work on over the winter.

    He told the Chicago Sun-Times:

    What’s going on right now mentally is kind of strange from a hitting standpoint. We’re aggressive when we shouldn’t be, and we’re passive when we should be aggressive. . . . We’ve got to address all these problems in the winter to produce some runs.

    Run-scoring has been a problem for the Cubs, who are 29th in total runs scored. Getting on base at all has been difficult with a .300 team on-base percentage (29th) and .241 team batting average (26th). 

    While all aspects of the Cubs team will need to improve, hitting will be essential in the offseason.

He Handles Himself Well in Tough Situations

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    Dale Sveum is usually a mild-mannered man, which is part of the reason Epstein hired him to be the Cubs manager.

    However, it is nearly impossible for a manager to remain completely level-headed all season, especially with a team struggling as much as the Cubs are.

    Sveum has kept his cool overall. He will admit, though, that his temper has been tested many times in 2012.

    To ESPNChicago he said, "I am a very patient guy so that’s one thing I have going for me. But I ain’t going to lie to you, patience will only go so far too where you do snap. Usually when I do it not too many people will see it except maybe the individual (being talked to)."

    Of course, it's good for a manager to have that fire when the time is needed, either to scold a player or to pump up his team.

The Post All-Star Break Schedule Started off Right

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    After the first half of the season in which the Cubs were 19 games under .500 at 33-52, a dramatic second-half comeback was wishful thinking.

    Yet after sweeping the Diamondbacks in their first series back and taking two of three from the Miami Marlins, the Cubs were standing at 6-1 to start their second-half surge.

    They would get swept by the St. Louis Cardinals next, but take two of three from the Pirates and the Cardinals in the following two series.

    Now the Cubbies were 10-6 post All-Star break. 

    A 43-58 record, though, was not enough for upper management to rethink their rebuilding plan. By the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs had shipped off Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto and the biggest name, Ryan Dempster.

    From that point forward the Cubs would lose 11 of their next 12 games and sink even lower into the depths of the NL Central.

    It was nice for a while.

They Weren't Expected to Win Big

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    Sveum's job is safe because not much was expected from the Cubs this season.

    They weren't expected to make the playoffs and they definitely were not a World Series caliber team.

    Sveum's job was to come into Chicago and create a positive atmosphere, develop good relationships with his players and staff and guide this team down the road to becoming a competitive force in the National League.

    He is a player's manager, always available—and wary of the media.

    Expectations next year will be different. A playoff push may still be a long shot, but more will be anticipated during spring training.

He Could Have Been in Boston

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    "Send 'Em Home" Sveum—as he was known in Boston—spent two seasons as the Red Sox third-base coach in 2004 and 2005. 

    He won a World Series with the Red Sox but was still regarded as having bad judgement when it came to advancing a runner to home on any given play.

    Despite his criticism, mostly from fans, Sveum was considered for the managerial job in Boston following Terry Francona's departure after the 2011 season.

    Fortunately for Sveum, he signed to become the manager with the Cubs in mid-November and the Red Sox took a different route with Bobby Valentine. 

    Sure, Chicago's record is worse than Boston's (though not by much), yet considering the talent of the players on each team, Sveum has done a better job with his team than Valentine has done in Boston.

    Sveum is surely happy to be in Chicago rather than the drama-ridden streets of Boston, and he will prove why he was chosen for the managerial job next season.

They're the Cubs, They're Cursed

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    Listen, folks. What it ultimately comes down to is the Cubs are cursed.

    There is nothing that Dale Sveum, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks or Ryne Sandberg could have done this season.

    A World Series victory missed for the 104th season is a painful reminder of the Cubs' abysmal history.

    The Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945 when they lost in seven games to the Detroit Tigers.

    Sveum is the 44th manager since the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 at the hands of manager Frank Chance.

    Is Sveum the answer?