Competition Breeds Champions... Just Not In 2012

Marlon Byrd said it best:

Everyone’s counting us out, so I’m sure they’ll have us down with the Astros, Pirates, whoever… That’s fine with us.The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of first place and still ended up winning a World Series.

Call it the Cubs way, call it the a new era in Cubs baseball, call it what ever you want; the Cubs are a brand new team in 2012.

As spring training began in Arizona for the Cubs, there seems to be a bit of pep in everyone’s step. You cant help but assume the Cubs feel that they have better inventory this spring, and the list includes Wells, Lopez, Casey Coleman, Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Samardzija, Jay Jackson and Trey McNutt. A long winter break can take its toll on any ball team and from what we can see, the Cubs are all excited to get back to the field and start putting some hours of real work in. No one may have put in more hours than Head of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein who’s made countless moves for the Cubs in both the minor and major leagues. Epstein arrived in Mesa a few days ago and addressed the media:

This is what we’re all here for, is to play the game on the field. Sometimes the winter can stretch on and you forget what you’re doing for a living, and you feel like an accountant or something. We’re real happy to hear the crack of the bat and get together under the same roof and get this thing started.

Back to basics seems to be the theme of spring training this year. Dale Sveum, the Cubs new manager, has been active on the field tossing balls in batting practice and even had the corners of the bases painted for base running drills (welcome back to tee ball guys). Sveum, who spent last year as the head bench boss in Milwaukee, knows the value of putting players to good use in their respective positions.

Lately him and new pitching coach Chris Bosio have been focused on the bullpen and who will fight it out for the remaining starting pitching positions, assuming that Garza (10-10, 3.32 ERA) and Dempster (10-14, 4.80 ERA) have already locked up their starting gigs.  Paul Maholm (6-14, 3.66 ERA), Chris Volstad  (5-13, 4.89 ERA, who was shipped to Chicago in the Zambrano “deal”) and Travis Wood (6-6, 4.84 ERA) all need to show Sveum what they have on the mound in order to obtain their respective spots in the rotation.

“We have all the parts,” manager Dale Sveum said at last month’s Cubs Convention. “They just have to get it done in the big leagues. We have plenty of guys who can have productive years.”

A little healthy competition never hurt anyone. It forces those who are competing against each other to better themselves and hone their skills into a high performance level.

Who wins in all this? The Cubs as a whole.

Sveum seems confident in his new bullpen, and as he should. Even with the loss of Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs bullpen has all the right building blocks in place to develop into a prime rotation that can put W’s on the scoreboard. . Last year, the Cubs ranked 14th in the National League in ERA (4.33) which was a pretty respectable effort despite earning only 71 wins.

Should we expect more wins from the Cubs this year? No… most likely not.

The Cubs are a young team… not in age but in experience. This is a team who needs to establish a solid base on their new foundation and their making good moves so far. Sveum and company realize this  Back to basics baseball establishes two things.

  • No one player is above the team. You may be a professional baseball player, but working the fundamentals can never harm your skills. This also puts the wisdom of the new coaching staff on display by putting every single player, regardless of skill, on the same starting block. Keeping drills simple also creates a low stress environment for the players and helps proper coach-player relationships fester in a calm environment. Sure… they’ll have to up the difficulty of the drills eventually, but for starters? This is a great way for a new team to establish relationships.
  • It allows the coaching staff to see potential gaps in a player’s skill-set. This is extremely important for coaches, GMs and players alike because players may now become aware of their fundamental faults, coaches can develop drills to help improve a lagging player and allows GM’s to allocate their scouting or dealings to fill some gaps that cant be filled from within the system.

From what I can see, the Cubs are doing everything right.

But dont celebrate too quickly Cubs fans (I know it hurts) but these things will take anywhere from 3-5 years to really fit into place. Do not fear, the Cubs brass is well aware of this and they’re proving it by making all the right moves and establishing a proper tone at spring training.

Good things come to those who wait. We’ll soon see the fruit of the Cubs’ labors….

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Tags: Basics Bullpen Byrd Chicago Cubs Dale Epstein Marlon MLB Sveum Theo

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