Strange doings in Milwaukee, and Theo unfiltered
It was another busy, eventful and strange night at Miller Park last night, when the Cubs fell 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning on Logan Schafer’s bases-loaded suicide squeeze bunt. We’ll talk about that play in a sec, and we’ll also let Cubs president Theo Epstein go unfiltered on a number of topics. We can do that here in the blog because of the time-space continuum doesn’t hamper us here. And the readers seem to like it.
Strange things seem to happen at Miller Park. In April of this year, the Brewers’ Jean Segura stole second base, and after Ryan Braun walked, he ended up back at first base after a crazy rundown play. He then attempted to steal second base again and was thrown out. So he stole a base and was thrown out at the same base in the same inning. The computer program didn’t know what to do with it.
Last night, Schafer put down his squeeze bunt with one out to score pinch runner Jeff Bianchi from third. Game over. But it wasn’t. Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm decided to throw to first base anyway to get the out – after the winning run had scored. The out ended up counting as official scorer Tim O’Driscoll had to call the Elias Sports Bureau and get a ruling.
And before that, we had the second dugout dustup in two nights, with Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija unhappy with the defensive positioning set by coach David Bell when Norichika Aoki tripled down the right field line to lead off the sixth. No harm occurred as Aoki eventually was thrown out at the plate on a play in which the Cubs recorded two outs, thanks to some adventurous Brewers baserunning.
The night before, manager Dale Sveum and pitcher Edwin Jackson went at it after Sveum took Jackson out of the game after 4 lackluster innings. On Tuesday, all sides insisted things were just fine in Cubland.
Samardzija said last night’s incident rated only a “1” as far as recent Cubs dugout lore goes (see Carlos Zambrano).
‘We have a lot of cameras out there; everything gets seen,” Samardzija said. “That’s just the way it is. Everyone gets seen. You can’t hide anything. It’s just competitive dudes, man, playing to win a game. It’s exciting. It’s good to see. People care. Our record isn’t where we want it to be right now, but nobody’s happy about it. We’re out here scraping and clawing and doing everything we can to win a ballgame. And Belly’s the epitome of that, doing everything he can do win a ballgame, man. He cares. Everyone on this team cares.”
So much for that. Before the game, Theo Epstein talked to the writers for about a half-hour and answered questions on several topics. You saw some of the coverage today. We’ll let Theo go long form and unfiltered on a few topics. The status of Dale Sveum was the hot topic, as Theo didn’t give Dale the dreaded “vote of confidence” or a real one. Here we go:
“I think we’ve been very upfront about the fact that we’re not evaluating Dale on wins and losses. Our record is more a reflection of the roster that we put on the field. You look to other areas. There are a number of areas we are evaluating him on.
“You brought up the development of young players. That’s an important factor. You want your young players to develop, especially given where we are in our building process. We want all of our players to show they’re addressing their weaknesses and getting better.
“There’s in-game decision making. There are shorter-term strategic issues that come up day to day. There’s the way the manager uses the roster and other longer-term, longer-horizon issues. There’s the ability to create a culture of accountability, hard work, preparation. Then there’s the ability to develop solid, trusting relationships with players so that we can get through periods when you don’t see eye to eye so you can get through adversity together.
“Dale’s been given a difficult hand to play. There are certain categories that are hard to evaluate. Anytime an organization suffers back-to-back losing seasons, you have to evaluate every single aspect of the organization. We’re looking at our own decision-making processes in the front office. We’re looking at the players and evaluating the players.
“We’re evaluating the coaching staff, and we’re evaluating Dale. We’re going to make a lot of decisions after the season and go forward. I think as a whole Dale’s had a nice calming effect on the club. I think he’s established a level of professionalism here that’s admirable, and he’s held his head up high under difficult circumstances over the course of two years.
“Dale’s under contract through 2014. If you’re asking me about that, at the end of the year, we go through a period of evaluation of all aspects of the organization: front-office decision-making, players, coaches, manager and we take the opportunity now with the bulk of the season behind us to discuss it internally.”
You saw in today's coverage that Theo said there were no "arm bells" to be sounded about Sveum. One of those young players Theo referenced is Starlin Castro. Both he and Anthony Rizzo have had overall down years. The Cubs last year began trying to make Castro a more selective hitter even though he came up from the minor leagues and had success as an aggressive hitter. Here’s Theo:
“Starlin’s just somebody we want to be himself. He’s a pretty unique hitter. If you step back from this year and look at his whole career, he’s somebody who has elite hand-eye coordination.
“I think we made efforts as an organization to introduce him to the concepts of getting a pitch that he can really drive because in the long run that will benefit him. But if that can’t be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, then we’ll have to let time play its course. I think he’s in a pretty good place right now where he’s actually comfortable at the plate. He’s hitting in the leadoff position. He understands that he’s supported and that he can be himself. I think he naturally will become a little more selective without losing his aggressiveness through the course of the season.
“I think with Starlin, if you try to throw too much at him, which maybe at times we’ve been guilty of – who knows? – I think we’ve always been conscious of letting him be himself. In this case, I think he’s at his best when he’s single-mindedly himself.”
Castro is the Cubs’ shortstop, and the Cubs – at this point anyway – seem intent on leaving him there even as Javier Baez rushes up through the minors as a shortstop. Here’s Theo on Baez and how that situation looks:
“He’s a shortstop (Baez). In my opinion, he’s got all the ability to play major-league shortstop. Not that he’s not still developing. He is. He’s getting better defensively. We have a shortstop now, so if we’re fortunate enough to get to a point in time where Baez is pounding on that door and Castro is healthy, then we will look to move Baez around so that he can perform in other positions. I think he’s got a lot going for him where he’ll be able to do that.
“He has, for a young kid, tremendous baseball instincts, not just shortstop instincts, but instincts that carry over to other positions. Not that we would ever do this, but I wouldn’t doubt that he could go out and play a lot of the outfield. I think that he could frigging catch, he’s got such a good head for the game, good instincts. But I think second base and third base will be positions he can handle if and when the time is right to do that.
“He’s most likely going to break next year as our Triple-A shortstop. If we start hearing the pounding on the door, then we can look to get him more exposure.”
And finally on seemingly forgotten third-base prospect Josh Vitters, the organization’s No. 1 draft choice in 2007, Theo said Vitters will not go to winter ball and try to kick-start his career again. Center fielder Brett Jackson, the Cubs’ top pick in 2009, also is in the same boat of needing a restart. As for Vitters, that restart will come in left field next year.
“We’re working on with both guys. I know in Josh’s case, he has a program in place that we’ve signed off on that does not include winter ball. It involves making himself a more complete baseball player, working on the mental side of the game. He’s really excited about it. He sounds like he’s in a great place mentally and physically right now. We’re converting him to left field. He knows that. He’s going to come to spring training ready to re-establish himself and get his mind ready to force himself into that mix as one of our right-handed hitting outfielders. It was a difficult year for both those kids, and they’re both really determined to show up in a much better set of circumstances in 2014.”