Sveum well aware Cubs are better than record reflects
After sluggish start to season, club's bullpen, defense turning it around
CHICAGO -- Manager Dale Sveum doesn't have to look at the numbers or do the math to know the Cubs should have a better record than their 22-30 mark entering Friday's series opener against the D-backs.
Their starters have the lowest average against in the National League and their ERA ranks fifth in the Senior Circuit. The bullpen, for all its struggles, has a 1.17 ERA in its last eight games.
And the Cubs have a plus-six run differential, outscoring their opponents, 214-208.
"We've been in pretty much every single game of the year," said Sveum, whose club has seen 83 percent of its games decided by four runs or fewer. "We've had a couple blowouts, so it's a very odd record for the run differential, that's for sure."
So that 22-30 doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Something more along the lines of a 27-25 mark does, which is the Cubs' pythagorean winning percentage -- an estimate of a team's winning percentage based on its runs scored and allowed that was developed by noted sabermetrician Bill James.
Or, if you're less sabermetrically inclined, you can just use the eye test.
"I don't have to look at any of that, I just know by the way we've played," Sveum said of having a better record. "Early on, we gave so many games away that it was tough to recover from that. … Guys [recently] have been doing a good job in the bullpen, so you start winning more games that way instead of giving them away."
Along with pitching better out of the bullpen, the Cubs also have been playing better defense. Although Chicago has committed 40 errors -- tied for the second most in the Majors -- 21 of those have been by pitchers or catchers.
"There were some very poor things going on early in the season, and I think after the first two weeks, getting [second baseman Darwin] Barney back every single day is obviously going to shore up your defense," Sveum said. "But everything else has been clicking a lot better."
Pitchers' hitting ability lengthening bench
CHICAGO -- The hitting ability of the Cubs' starting pitchers isn't only lengthening the team's lineup. It's also lengthening the bench.
Take Thursday's win against the White Sox. The Cubs were ahead, 6-2, in the bottom of the sixth inning and left-handed starter Travis Wood -- who was 2-for-2 with a grand slam -- was due up. Cubs manager Dale Sveum knew Wood was done on the mound after six strong innings, but opted to let him hit away instead of using a pinch-hitter.
Wood didn't record a hit, but it didn't matter as the Cubs eventually won, 8-3.
"When you have a five-run lead with the wind blowing out, to save all your bullets to be able to mix and match [is beneficial]," Sveum said. "You don't want to call it 'wasting a player' leading off an inning when you have a five-run lead, but when you have a pitcher that's capable of just hitting a fly ball when the wind's blowing out, I don't see any reason to waste a player right there in that situation."
Cubs pitchers have driven in a National League-record 19 runs this month, which is the most since since Detroit's pitchers collected 20 RBIs in August 1940, so it's not like Sveum sent an automatic out to the plate.
"It comes in handy when guys can swing the bat and you can do things like that," Sveum said.
• It was a short night and early morning for the umpiring crew of Rob Drake, Joe West, David Rackley and Andy Fletcher, who were in St. Louis for Thursday's Royals-Cardinals game that didn't finish until 3:14 a.m. CT on Friday. The crew then hopped in a car to drive to Chicago for Friday's 1:20 p.m. first pitch at Wrigley Field.
Sveum said he wasn't concerned about the umpires' lack of sleep affecting the game.
"Sometimes we get in at 3:15 in the morning," Sveum said. "They don't have to get to the park that early, so they can get plenty of sleep. That's not something that's going to dictate the game."