04/28/2013 6:16 PM ET
Cubs prepared for long homestand
By David Furones / Special to MLB.com
MIAMI -- The Cubs were on a slide coming into their 10-game road trip and dropped five of six to the Brewers and Reds, but after taking three of four from the Marlins, who own the worst record in baseball, things might be turning around.
As an added bonus, Chicago gets to head back home to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, where it will play 16 of the next 19 games.
"We weathered it I guess as good as we could after playing some really bad ball in Milwaukee," manager Dale Sveum said.
"To win four out of the last six after losing the way we did to Milwaukee was a nice little finish to the road trip. Obviously, we'd love to finish it off, but I'd say it's tough, for some reason, to sweep four games. It just doesn't happen very often."
Beginning Monday, the Cubs will play a four-game series against the Padres, a three-game weekend set with the Reds and a quick two-gamer with the Cardinals -- with a makeup game against the Rangers in between the St. Louis and Cincinnati series.
Then, after getting three road games at Washington, they'll return home for a pair of three-game series with the Rockies and Mets.
"It's always [good]," pitcher Carlos Villanueva said. "Some home cooking always helps. We'll be back there. We have San Diego coming, and I think we'll be ready to do business against them."
Gregg emerges as stabilizing force for Cubs 'pen
MIAMI -- The hottest topic surrounding the Cubs' clubhouse has been the closer's role, and the uncertainty as to who will fill it on any given night.
Manager Dale Sveum has had three pitchers record multiple saves. Kyuji Fujikawa, currently on the 15-day disabled list, and Carlos Marmol have registered two, and Kevin Gregg has saved three games, including the last two in wins against the Marlins on Friday and Saturday after Marmol picked up the save in Thursday's victory.
"It's Dale's pick on what he wants to do, what's best for the team," Gregg said. "I never want to look at it as I'm competing against my teammates, because we're on the same team, we have the same goals, we're trying to accomplish the same things.
"Carlos is a good pitcher. He came in [Saturday] night in the eighth inning and got a big out for us."
With that said, however, Gregg still does prefer to be the man the team depends on to shut the door in the ninth.
"Of course. I love pitching in the ninth," he said. "I would hope Carlos says the same thing. I've always said on all the different teams I've been in, I hope every guy wants to pitch in the ninth. I hope every guy thinks he can pitch in the ninth. That's just going to make us better as a whole."
The Chicago bullpen as a whole has been on a hot streak. After starting the season with a bullpen ERA of 6.06 heading into April 18, Cubs relievers have dazzled with an ERA of 1.03 over the last 10 games. Nine of those 10 outings were combined scoreless ones, including all three games of the current series against the Marlins.
"I'm not going to really mess with anything right now in our bullpen," Sveum said. "It's about as good as it can be right now."
"We've thrown the ball well, but first thing you have to point at is our starters," Gregg added. "Our starters have gone deep into games, gives us a chance to go deep into games, which does allow us to be in a better spot as a bullpen, keep guys rested, keep guys using the roles that they're comfortable with."
It's important that the Cubs' bullpen be a strength of the team considering the number of close games the team plays. Twenty of Chicago's 23 games thus far have been decided by three runs or fewer. The other three -- by four runs.
Sveum seems to have gotten message across
MIAMI -- Last weekend while in Milwaukee, Cubs manager Dale Sveum was not shy around reporters about letting his team know that it has to play better ball.
He went as far as threatening to demote current big leaguers, regardless of their stature on the team, if they didn't get their act together.
"If people keep playing like that, you have to find options," Sveum said last weekend. "Give people playing time at Triple-A to figure this stuff out."
Despite Sunday's loss to the Marlins, Chicago's players seem to have gotten the point.
After being swept by Milwaukee and dropping the first game at Cincinnati, Chicago finished the road trip winning four of its last six, including three in a row in Miami.
On top of the pitching staff keeping opponents off the scoreboard, the offense has come together as well. Anthony Rizzo went 5-for-13 with two home runs, a double and five RBIs in the four-game set with the Marlins, and David DeJesus is hitting .358 in his last 16 games. That's without mentioning Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena, who have come up with clutch hits during the Cubs' four recent wins.
Not all players put much thought into what Sveum had to say, like Carlos Villanueva, who started and took the loss Sunday against the Marlins.
"I didn't. The manager has his job. He feels he has to say something, then he'll say it, and it's our job to listen," Villanueva said. "Some guys ... their minds work different. For me, I know the job I have to make, and I do my best not to get anybody to yell at me because I don't like that. I think I'm old enough to know what I have to do.
"Certain messages are directed to certain players, and I guess whoever has to take that message will take it and the other guys will just keep doing their jobs. We have younger guys, and the younger guys sometimes need a little wakeup call. I think we police ourselves, and I think we have a good clubhouse here and I know that we're going to be all right."
• Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart went 0-for-3 with an error for Triple-A Iowa in the ninth game of his Minor League rehab assignment Saturday for Triple-A Iowa, and went 0-for-2 with three walks, two runs and an RBI on Sunday. He also committed another error, of the throwing variety, his fourth in Triple-A. Stewart is currently hitting .094 with Iowa.
• There have been no setbacks for Matt Garza and Fujikawa. Garza will throw a bullpen session Sunday as he rehabs from a left lat strain. He will make either three or four Minor League starts before coming back up to the Majors in what appears to be late May.
• Fujikawa, coming back from a right forearm injury, is still scheduled to throw 30-35 pitches in the bullpen Monday, and Sveum has previously said he'll make two Minors appearances before coming back up to the bigs.
David Furones is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.