Only three weeks into the season and the wheels may already be falling off the Cubs wagon. The day after getting ejected from a ballgame for the first time this season, manager Dale Sveum vented over the struggles of his team. The root of his frustration appears to come from the defensive side of the game, specifically errors. The Cubs manager went on to indict a pair of his young studs, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
These comments actually came prior to Sunday afternoon’s game, but the Cubs apparently decided that they needed to further support Sveum’s disappointment, offering another error filled performance that led to being swept out of Milwaukee. One of those culprits was none other than Castro.
Sveum’s rant earlier in the day went as far as to suggest that his All Star short stop and first baseman of the future be sent back down to the minor leagues for further seasoning. His public comments seem to conflict with the organization’s idea to market the promising infield duo as the face of the ball club. Castro and Rizzo have certainly done enough offensively to show that they belong, even with Rizzo’s batting average hovering around .200 all season. The shortstop is hitting over .300 and Rizzo leads the team with six home runs.
But Rizzo’s error on Friday apparently set the tone on defense for the weekend in hindsight, and Castro committed his fourth miscue already this season on Saturday. After the game on Sunday, Castro seemed to take his manager’s criticism in stride, apologizing for the mistakes on defense. “I feel bad, those errors are making the team lose,” Castro said. “That’s why the team is losing, because of the errors. Just keep it together and work hard and it’ll be all right.”
Rizzo’s comments seemed more focused on not worrying about whether or not his manager was bluffing about the demotion. He wanted to focus just on playing and going out to do his job. It remains to be seen if Sveum is just calling out the future leaders of his team to try to right the ship, or if there really is some concern regarding the progress of the young players. Rizzo’s struggles at the plate have occurred before in San Diego and of course Cubs fans are well familiar with the mental lapses in the field that Castro has exhibited so far in his young career.
Regardless, my money is going to be bet on Sveum challenging his future team leadership duo. Despite veterans like Alfonso Soriano who have shown clubhouse leadership qualities in recent seasons, this may be another teaching moment for youngsters Castro and Rizzo as the leaders of the 2014 Cubs and beyond. Part of being a leader is sometimes taking the heat from your manager so that the other guys on your team see that everyone is being held accountable, even the stars. As I mentioned in a team Italy WBC recap post, Rizzo showed some signs of leadership ability in the dugout during one of the games. The traits can be found in both the first baseman and Castro. Over time one may show stronger alpha male characteristics than the other, but both can be molded to optimize the leadership skills they do possess.
At this time neither player appears to have bristled from the comments and the Cubs will have the opportunity to right the ship starting with a series opener against the Reds in Cincinnati on Monday evening.