Dale Sveum’s formula for a fresh start by Cubs includes throwing strikes, hitting in clutch
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org July 4, 2012 9:54PM
Chicago Cubs' Tony Campana, center, jumps into teammate Anthony Rizzo, left, as the Cubs celebrate their 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves in a baseball game Wednesday, July 4, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Updated: August 6, 2012 12:20PM
ATLANTA — Dale Sveum has no idea what his team will look like next week, much less next month or beyond.
But he has a pretty clear idea what he expects from his last-place Cubs over the second 81 games of the season.
“We have to start throwing strikes, period,’’ the first-year Cub manager said. “And you have to hit with men in scoring position.’’
Because they did some of both Wednesday night, they beat the Atlanta Braves 5-1 at Turner Field to win for the seventh time in nine games as they closed out an otherwise miserable 31-50 first half.
But one good night during a hot 10-game stretch doesn’t cover up the crud that accounted for much of the first three months of Cub baseball. And it says little about what’s coming the next three months, if only because nobody knows who’s still going to be here.
With Ryan Dempster pushing for a return from the disabled list Sunday, a good start that proves renewed health could make him a quick and sudden hot commodity again on the trade market — still the player the front office is most compelled to move because of his contract status.
“I know Ryan pretty well,’’ said Chipper Jones of the Braves — one of the pitching-needy teams looking hard at Dempster. “Dempster has been a guy that’s been a quality starter in this league for a long, long time. They guy knows how to pitch, and any team would be lucky to have him. And he’s a real good guy, and good in the clubhouse.’’
Will some team ante up enough young talent to wrest Matt Garza from the rotation? Could Wednesday’s winner, Paul Maholm — with one run allowed in his last two starts combined — draw enough interest to prompt a trade before the July 31 non-waiver deadline?
What about catcher Geovany Soto, closer Carlos Marmol, bench/platoon guys Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker, or the recently demoted, $2.7-million pitcher Randy Wells?
And what does that leave for Sveum and his staff to build on over the second half?
About the only thing that’s certain is that the Cubs remain one of the few, committed sellers in a market that — with an added playoff spot in each league — includes more potential buyers than it has in recent memory.
“That’s the reality of the game when you’re in the situation we are,’’ Sveum said. “From day to day, it could be a completely different roster.’’
But the throwing-strikes thing and hitting with men in scoring position — those expectations don’t change for Sveum even if his personnel does.
The Cubs entered Wednesday ranked last in the National League with a .222 average with men in scoring position (.345 slugging in that situation) and second-to-last in the majors with 296 walks surrendered by the pitching staff.
The addition last week of Anthony Rizzo — who on Wednesday had two more hits, including his third homer — has punched up a 2-3-4-5 part of the Cubs’ order that produced six hits, including a pair of homers Wednesday.
All-Star Bryan LaHair, who was bumped to right field with Rizzo’s arrival, also homered during a two-hit game.
“We’ve still got four more games to go. We’re starting to come together a little bit,’’ said LaHair, who doesn’t believe it’s any accident it has coincided with another big left-handed bat in the order — and who sees each making the other better as the second half unfolds.
Sveum at least sees stability in the middle of his order.
“When you have a team that’s a little more stable, you’d like to have a goal of playing .500 baseball the second half,’’ he said. “To play over-.500 baseball would be a nice goal to have.”