Outside of the bullpen struggles, the story of this young season for the Chicago Cubs has been the anemic offense -- at least until Thursday's offensive explosion, with critics focusing on the team's lack of patience at the plate. Manager Dale Sveum has made it clear that he doesn't mind early hacks in an at-bat, as long as that batter is swinging at pitches he can drive.
The Cubs finished 15th in the NL last season in walks taken with 425. Many hoped with a new front office philosophy that puts a premium on on-base percentage that that number would change for the better. Only six games into the season, the Cubs are fifth in the league with 21 walks (led by the offseason acquisition David DeJesus with four), but the team's tendency to swing early in the count has led to many weak outs.
No right-minded fan expected the Cubs' lack of patience to be cured in one offseason. It takes a concerted effort to seek out that type of player in the draft and free agency, but is it possible to learn to become a patient hitter?
"It's probably the most difficult thing to do," Sveum said. "A lot of time you'll see guys gradually get a lot more patient. It gets to the point where you get tired of rolling over and swinging at pitchers' pitches. A lot of times when you get to 2,000 at-bats in the big leagues things start coming together a little bit as far as patience. (They start) understanding that when you swing early in the count it (has to be) something you can drive out of the ballpark as opposed to something down at the knees or away on the black."
With the Cubs scuffling early in the season with only one win in their first six games, people have begun to wonder if this team could be headed for a worst-case scenario type season. Optimists point out that this stretch would be nothing more than a cold streak if it happened in June, believing that ‘1' in the win column is nothing more than an eye-sore. However, Sveum doesn't care when you play bad ball, it's never acceptable.
"One and five, no matter what part of the year it is, is obviously not a good stretch," Sveum said. "It's an everyday grind out here to do whatever you can do to win a ballgame and get back on track. We've been in pretty much every ball game; we just need that three-run homer to get us the lead or back in a game. Whatever it is, we're not doing that right now."
A team that is doing everything right at the plate early on is the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs head down to Missouri to start a three-game set on Friday and face an offense that's in stark contrast to the one on the North Side. The Cardinals lead the league in runs (37), on-base percentage (.371) and slugging percentage (.514). The latter aided by an eye-popping 27 extra-base hits (including 12 home runs) in seven games, helping them get off to a 5-2 start.
Adding in the fact that the Cardinals will be receiving their rings and raising their World Series banners on Friday just pours more salt in the Cubs wounds.
"I don't know if it's tough to watch, you give anybody respect when they win the World Series," Sveum said, who has two rings himself, once as a player in 1998 with the New York Yankees and another as a coach in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox. "It's gotta be one team every year that wins it, that gets their rings and raise a banner like that. (The Cardinals are) the best in the world right, they're the world champions of baseball. You're gonna have to be out there and you're gonna have to watch it. But, hey, you want other people to be watching you do it someday as well. It's a fun day, there's no question about it, I've been able to do it twice and it's very, very fun."