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Monday, April 15, 2013
Two weeks in, sloppy the norm

By Jesse Rogers

Dale Sveum
Dale Sveum has seen plenty of sloppy play from the Cubs in their first 12 games.
Maybe it was more than a coincidence the Chicago Cubs and the City of Chicago finally announced an official plan on Sunday night for renovating Wrigley Field just hours after arguably the worst loss of the young season.

A distraction was needed.

Forget the rebuilding, the talent gap, the future, and yes, forget about what the new-and-improved Wrigley Field might look like for a moment. Two weeks into the 2013 season the Cubs have given new meaning to giving away games.

Getting beat soundly by a more talented team is one thing, but making stupid and silly mistakes to lose games is a whole other. Especially so recently removed from spring training. Really, Scott Feldman? Covering first base wasn't drilled enough in February and March?

And consider this: After 12 games the Cubs have combined to score and give up a total 15 runs in the ninth inning already. That's by far the most in the league and might be a reason alone to extend those beer sales the Cubs are planning on doing after stadium renovation is complete. Something has to get fans through those blown saves. Four different pitchers already have the dubious honor of owning one.

At the top of the list has to be Sunday's finish. One strike away from a pretty good win over the San Francisco Giants, Shawn Camp gave up a home run to Hunter Pence to tie the game 7-7. Balking in the go-ahead run the next inning was just icing on the cake. Add throwing five wild pitches in an inning while walking four batters -- as the Cubs did in the sixth -- and you have what a Hollywood script might look like. But this is Cub reality right now. A horror show for sure.

Don't forget about brothers B.J. and Justin Upton, one hot as fire at the time and the other cold as ice, hitting game tying and winning home runs off Carlos Marmol in Game No. 5 in Atlanta. It negated a stellar effort by starter Carlos Villanueva. Marmol might look back on it as his final chance to close games for the Cubs. Then again he might be right back in there after Sunday.

Villanueva's next start, in Game No. 10, was even more nuts. The Cubs blew a 2-0 ninth inning lead -- this time Kyuji Fujikawa gave it up -- only to win 4-3 in the bottom of the inning. The disabled list was calling for Fujikawa, who admitted his arm was sore before his outing.

But the Cubs could be and should be better than this. Almost every physical error -- there's been 10 so far -- has had a mental component to it. Even with low expectations, it's hard to figure some of the things that have gone on.
An easy roller to shortstop Starlin Castro by Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong in Game No. 9 was booted and subsequently turned into four unearned runs. How did he boot that with the pitcher running? And they compounded the error by allowing four runs to score with two outs after the error. And then there was Sunday's historic sixth inning when the Cubs gave up the lead while tying the record for most wild pitches thrown in an inning.

There have been missed opportunities at the plate in the first two weeks as well. Four times the Cubs have had a runner at second base and no outs and failed to get him to third let alone score him.

If Feldman covers first base on a couple of occasions, runs would have been prevented from scoring. Easy plays for major leaguers have been made more difficult by the Cubs as wide throws and missed double plays opportunities have been the norm in the early going.

"Would of's and could of's make the world go around," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said after one game of missed chances.

He's right, but it should be noted, many of the plays the Cubs have left out there have nothing to do with their talent gap. In a strange way it might have to do with their confidence or even bravado. No major league player is going to admit his team stinks coming out of spring training but there is something to understanding reality. Cubs players keep claiming they are a "good" team. How many games under .500 does it take to say otherwise? And that kind of thinking is working against them.

If you're honest with yourself as a player or manager you know the Cubs have an uphill battle this season. So what does that mean? It means when (relatively) easy or routine plays are out there to be made they have to make them. It would be nice to have a 10-run lead so a booted ball goes unnoticed but that's not the case with this team.

Extra focus, extra work, extra understanding that wins won't come like they will for other teams needs to set in. Every play has to be treated with more urgency -- yes maybe more urgency than other teams possess if that's possible.

After two weeks the Cubs aren't that far from .500 (4-8) , and not that far from first place, but giving away games so easily isn't part of any rebuilding plan. Managers should be judged based on the talent they have and if they are getting most out of their players.

It's hard to think team president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer believe Sveum is getting the most out of the players. In fact, it's nearly impossible, no matter how bad you think they should be.

With injuries starting to heal, the Cubs will get some help in a Gold Glover (Darwin Barney), a good pitcher (Matt Garza) and possibly a natural third baseman (Ian Stewart) but none of it will help if they play sloppy.

They've been saved, somewhat, by good starting pitching. Now the rest of the team needs to catch up. And quick. Or else the extra beer sales will definitely come in handy.