September 2013

9/30 Cubs dismiss Sveum

The Cubs on Monday dismissed Dale Sveum as the manager, and Theo Epstein says he will begin the process of hiring the team’s 53rd skipper on Tuesday. Epstein said he met with Sveum at the All-Star break because they had some concerns about the development of young players. During that meeting, Epstein said he had a “long and brutally honest meeting” with Sveum. Epstein met again with Sveum in Milwaukee in September for two hours to give him a heads up. On Sunday night, the two had beers and discussed the team, and Sveum was informed then that he would not be returning.

The priority with the new manager will be that he can develop young talent, Epstein said.

9/29 Thank you

Just a quick note to say thanks and tell you how much I appreciate the comments, good and bad, and your passion for the Cubs. It was a long season, and now it’s time to look ahead to 2014.

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Final notebook

* Anthony Rizzo doubled in his first at-bat in the first to become the first Cubs left-handed hitter to reach 40 doubles since Mark Grace had 41 doubles in 2000. Rizzo finished with 65 extra-base hits this season, the most by a Cubs left-handed hitter since Mark Grace had that many in 1999.

“I’m going to take a lot of positives out of this year,” Rizzo said. “The only thing people are going to ride me on is the average but things could’ve been different there. Things didn’t go my way sometimes but that’s the game of baseball. I’m not happy about that at all but I’m going into the offseason pretty confident I can hit .300 and do all the other things as well.”

Rizzo, who finished with a .233 average in his first full season, and Nate Schierholtz (32 doubles) are the first Cubs left-handed hitting teammates to each reach 30 doubles in the same season since Jacque Jones (32 doubles) and Juan Pierre (31 doubles) in 2006.

In May, Rizzo signed a seven-year, $41 million contract extension. That didn’t affect his hitting.

“One of the goals at the beginning of this year and it was the same last year was to be the starting first baseman for the Cubs,” Rizzo said. “Obviously, now it’ll be for a few more years. Like I said when I signed it, it’s security. I get to play baseball and don’t have to worry about anything else except playing baseball.”

* Shortstop Starlin Castro totaled 666 at-bats, tops in the National League. Baltimore’s Manny Machado led the Majors with 667 at-bats.

* The Cubs finished 25-51 against the NL Central, matching the Astros for the lowest winning percentage by any team in its own division. Chicago went 7-12 against St. Louis, 5-14 against Cincinnati, 6-13 against Milwaukee, and 7-12 against Pittsburgh. It’s the first time they’ve finished with double-digit losses against four teams since 2002.

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Cardinals 4, Cubs 0

Jeff Samardzija closed the season on Sunday, taking the loss in the Cubs’ 4-0 decision to the playoff-bound Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd of 44,808 at Busch Stadium. Whether it was Dale Sveum’s last game as manager won’t be known until Monday, when he meets with Theo Epstein.

“We’ll find out in whatever it is, 12 hours, 15, whatever it is,” Sveum said. “It’s upon us.”

There were a lot of hugs between the players and coaches in the visitor’s clubhouse after the game. With the loss, the Cubs finished last in the National League Central at 66-96, a slight improvement over the 61-101 record in 2012. Epstein has repeatedly said he’s not judging Sveum on the team’s won-loss record.

“There were some positives,” Sveum said of the season, citing Anthony Rizzo’s stats, the emergence of reliever Hector Rondon, the development of catcher Welington Castillo. “It was a tough year all the way around.”

In 2012, Samardzija’s first year as a starter, he was shut down in early September when he’d reached his innings limit. This year, the kid gloves were off. Samardzija struck out four over six innings to finish with 213 2/3 innings, 214 strikeouts, and 19 quality starts out of 33 outings. But the Cubs couldn’t get him a win, and ended the season losing 14 of their last 18 games. He will finish among the top 10 pitchers in the National League in innings and strikeouts.

“I’m satisfied,” Samardzija said of his season. “I had a strong year, felt good, pitched every start, threw a lot of innings, lot of strikeouts. I need to limit the damage in crooked number innings, and once we do that, and cut those down to one instead of three, and cut the walks down, too, I think you’re looking at a different year. I’m still hungry and eager to improve for sure.”

With the win, the Cardinals will host the winner of the Reds vs. Pirates Wild Card Game, and the Braves will play host to the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. The Cubs’ players headed home.

“It’s not about playing six months, it’s about playing that seventh month,” Samardzija said. “Otherwise you’re just out here buying time. I want to win and pitch in October, and that’s it.”

Maybe next year?

“I think in three years — two or three — I think we’ll be competing,” Starlin Castro said. “I feel me and this guy right there [Rizzo], we work together and we’ll be a good team for sure.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Castro: Next year, strong mind

It was a disappointing season for Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who heads home to the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, happy with the way the year finished.

“I tried to finish strong,” Castro said Sunday. “I know it’s a bad year. But what I’m looking for is how I’m feeling right now — I feel like my old [self], I feel pretty good at the plate and that’s how I’m trying to finish so I come back next year with the same intensity.”

The shortstop began this season with a career. 297 average in the big leagues but headed into Sunday’s game batting .246 overall. This month, he’s batting .269, and was hitting .270 in 39 games in the leadoff spot. Castro will work with strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss in the offseason in the Dominican.

“I think next year, I’ll have a strong mind,” Castro said. “It’s bad because it’s a bad year, but I think it’s good because I learned a lot. I never had a bad year, and I think this has been important for me to put my mind strong and grow more.”

Dale Sveum said both Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo learned about themselves and how to deal with slumps and adversity this season. There have been highs and also lows, such as the Aug. 17 game when Sveum benched Castro after the shortstop’s mental gaffe led to a run scoring in a loss to the Cardinals. Does Castro want Sveum back as manager?

“Yeah, why not?” Castro said. “But it’s not my decision. I think he’s OK.”

The Cubs did try to change Castro’s hitting style, but his struggles at the plate resulted in letting the shortstop “be me” as he said. He described his relationship with Sveum as “good, nothing bad.”

“I want to be me,” Castro said. “I know I make errors, I know I make mistakes, and I paid for this, but I want to be like me. I don’t need pressure on myself, just play baseball. That’s what I need. Let me play baseball and I’ll be all right.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Sveum preps for Game No. 162

Dale Sveum made out the Cubs’ lineup card for Sunday’s game as he has for the previous 161 games this season, not knowing if it’s his last one.

“Like I said the other day, you’d be lying if you didn’t have anxiety about what’s going to happen in 24 hours,” Sveum said Sunday. “That’s human nature.”

Theo Epstein will meet Monday in Chicago with Sveum and some of the coaching staff to discuss their status. It’s part of the evaluation process Epstein is doing. If Sveum is anxious, he hasn’t shown it.

“You try [not to],” Sveum said of keeping a low profile. “There’s obviously frustrations [with the season], but my personality — I can get as [ticked] as anybody, but the focus should be on the players anyway. There’s something wrong if I’m seen too much. That’s my personality. I am what I am.”

It isn’t just Sveum who will find out Monday, either.

“Theo’s still evaluating [the coaches], too,” Sveum said. “He didn’t specifically say he was evaluating me but evaluating the whole staff situation.”

The Cubs will finish with at least 90 losses for the third straight season, the second in a row under Epstein and with Sveum at the helm. The Cubs have used a franchise record 56 different players this year, and only 12 remained on the roster for Game No. 162 who were present for the first game.

Sveum’s fiery side was revealed during the Cubs last series in Milwaukee Sept. 16-18 when he was caught on camera in the dugout arguing with pitcher Edwin Jackson. The next day, Jeff Samardzija was seen arguing with coach David Bell in the dugout. Epstein called those incidents “brushfires” and complimented Sveum because they were the only such incidents during his two years at the helm.

“It happens,” Jackson said Sunday about the argument. “In families, there’s nobody who has brothers or sisters who hasn’t been in an altercation with a brother or sister. It happens in other sports. But when it happens in baseball, it’s the less aggressive sport than other sports, and sometimes it’s made to be a big deal.

“You see a first place team, a playoff team [like the Braves], and it happens,” Jackson said of Atlanta’s dugout tussle Saturday between coach Terry Pendleton and Chris Johnson. “I’m sure they talked it over the next day. I’m sure it’s happened with plenty of players and managers and they make up the next day.”

As to whether Jackson wants Sveum back, the pitcher deferred to Epstein and the front office.

“It’s my first year with the organization,” Jackson said. “That’s a decision for those guys on top to make. My job is to go out and take the ball every fifth day to give the team a chance to win.”

Sveum has met with each of the players, either with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer present, or just Hoyer, to review the season and talk about next year. Sveum said his relationship with the front office has been good.

“Theo was honest with everybody that there’s an evaluation going on with all of us, myself included with the coaches,” Sveum said. “That doesn’t change your relationship with anybody. It’s my job to do what I do, and Theo’s job to do what he does. Just because there’s an evaluation going on doesn’t change anything.”

It’s impossible to predict the Cubs lineup for 2014. Sveum will find out Monday whether he’ll be part of the continued rebuilding process.

What was on his mind as he prepped for Sunday’s season finale?

“The same thing that was on my mind yesterday,” Sveum said. “Obviously, it’s the last day so it’s a little different than any other day with the players. You know it’s the last day of the season and you’re going to play it out and hopefully win a ballgame.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Cubs lineup

Game 162:

Castro SS
Watkins 2B
Rizzo 1B
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Murphy 3B
Bogusevic LF
Boscan C
Samardzija P

9/29 Extra bases: Game 162

* The Cubs’ 66-95 record through 161 games this season is a six-win improvement on the 60-101 record they had through 161 games last year. The team finished 2012 at 61-101. This season, the Cubs have a minus 83 run differential through 161 games compared to a minus 147 differential through 161 games in 2012 (minus 146 through 162 games). Imagine what the record would be if they hadn’t blown as many saves.

* With a 3.99 team ERA heading into the season finale Sunday, the Cubs have a chance to become one of three teams this season to have at least 95 losses yet also post a sub-4.00 ERA, joining the White Sox (3.98 ERA) and Marlins (3.73 ERA). However, there had been only four other teams in all of baseball in the last 25 seasons to post both of those marks: the 2011 and 2010 Mariners, the 1992 Dodgers, and the 1989 Braves.

The only time in franchise history the Cubs saw a team reach 95 losses and also post a sub-4.00 team ERA was in 1980, when the club went 64-98 with a 3.89 ERA.

* Anthony Rizzo (39 doubles) and Nate Schierholtz (30 doubles) have become the first Cubs left-handed hitting teammates to each reach 30 doubles in the same season since Jacque Jones (32 doubles) and Juan Pierre (31 doubles) in 2006. With one more double, Rizzo would become the first Cubs left-handed hitter to reach 40 doubles since Mark Grace had 41 doubles in 2000.

Rizzo has 64 extra-base hits this season, the most by a Cubs left-handed hitter since Grace had 65 in 1999. Rizzo’s 64 extra-base hits rank tied for fifth among NL batters.

9/28 Cardinals 6, Cubs 2

Edwin Jackson’s final start of the season ended sooner than expected. Jackson was pulled after 2 2/3 innings in the Cubs’ 6-2 loss Saturday to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium because of discomfort in his right side. The only good news is that he’ll have a few months to heal.

“It’s just a crazy year, man,” said Jackson, who will likely finish as the Major League leader in losses with 18. “If I had the answer, I would’ve changed a long time ago. It’s one of those years where you forget it but still learn from it. It was a [bad] year to sum it up. There’s a lot of things to take from it.”

The Cardinals continued to tune up for the postseason. Matt Holliday hit a two-run home run and Yadier Molina drove in two runs off Jackson to back Adam Wainwright in front of 42,520 fans. St. Louis clinched the National League Central title with a 7-0 win on Friday night, and now is battling Atlanta to determine the top seed in the NL playoffs.

The Cubs lost for the 13th time in their last 17 games, and are simply trying to wrap up a disappointing season in which they will finish last in the division.

“We only have nine innings left this year,” said Anthony Rizzo, who hit his 23rd home run leading off the ninth. “Hopefully, those nine innings get us going and we can go into the offseason on a high note.”

With one out in the St. Louis third, Jackson walked two batters, and both scored on Molina’s double. One out later, Pete Kozma hit a ground-rule double that bounced into the Cubs’ bullpen, and Jackson intentionally walked Adron Chambers to face Wainwright, who hit a RBI single. Cubs manager Dale Sveum and athletic trainer PJ Mainville then went to the mound, and Jackson was pulled after 65 pitches. The right-hander said the problem began when he was warming up and continued as the game progressed.

“He hasn’t had the year he wanted or anything like that but [Travis Wood] has pitched really good and [his record is] under .500,” Sveum said. “[Jackson] has kept us in some games. He’s been a .500 pitcher his whole career. Obviously, you don’t want losses, but at the same time, the games we’ve been in, we don’t seem to win or get a lead.”

Since Jackson reported to Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training, he’s been asked about the four-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Cubs, his first long-term deal. Maybe his struggles were related to putting too much pressure on himself with a new team?

“He handles everything really well and he’s ready to come back next year and prove himself,” Sveum said. “I think a lot of things go into it pressure-wise — you get a contract like that, you’re with a new team. I think next year he’ll be a lot more comfortable and settle in and have a good year.”

That’s the goal, Jackson said.

“I don’t feel like I pressed as far as playing,” Jackson said. “There were times when I was over analyzing things and thinking too much and not allowing myself to go out and do what I’m capable of doing athletically. As far as pressure with the new contract and new team and all that, I didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure.

“When you’re not pitching well, it’s easy to make excuses and point out things that could be happening,” he said. “It’s the craziest year I’ve had in baseball for a long time. You just look forward the working in the offseason and coming back and turning it around.”

The Cubs avoided being shutout for a second straight game when they tallied in the ninth against Edward Mujica. Rizzo led off with his first home run since Sept. 13 and second of the month. J.C. Boscan doubled and scored one out later on Donnie Murphy’s double.

On Sunday, the Cubs close the 2013 season. The players will head home, and Sveum will find out if he’s coming back next year on Monday.

“At the end of the day, the manager can’t play for us,” Jackson said. “The 25 guys who go on the field, we have to produce and play baseball like we know we can. I think we’re capable of doing that. It takes everyone to believe we can win games and go out and play like that.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/28 Cubs lineup

Edwin Jackson makes his final start of the season on Saturday when the Cubs face the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Here’s the lineup:

Castro SS
Lake LF
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Schierholtz RF
Murphy 3B
Bogusevic CF
Barney 2B
E. Jackson P

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