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posted: 9/19/2013 10:40 PM

Cubs' focus should be on offense, not the manager

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  • Associated PressThe Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, right, is congratulated by teammates Anthony Rizzo, left, and Ryan Sweeney, center, after hitting a two-run home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the third inning e Thursday in Milwaukee.

    Associated PressThe Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, right, is congratulated by teammates Anthony Rizzo, left, and Ryan Sweeney, center, after hitting a two-run home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the third inning e Thursday in Milwaukee.


MILWAUKEE -- If you're Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer and you fire field manager Dale Sveum, guess where the public and media heat turn?

That's right, to you.

Granted, team owner Tom Ricketts still is solidly behind his baseball-leadership team, so Epstein and Hoyer have that important bit of cover.

In fairness to them, they've been on the job less than two years and a good number of people they hired have been there about a calendar year or less, and it is going to take time to turn this hulking mess around.

But that won't stop the media from wondering about the judgment of Epstein/Hoyer in hiring Sveum in he first place if they do fire him and for their judgment in giving long-term contract extensions to players such as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo (Epstein/Hoyer's prized acquisition).

Nor will it deter fans from griping about watching a clearly inferior product at inflated ticket prices.

The real problem facing Epstein and Hoyer will be to put a respectable offense on the field next year. (And remember, too, this regime already is on its second hitting coach.)

No disrespect to anyone intended, but the Cubs have used these cleanup hitters this season: Cody Ransom, Donnie Murphy, Brian Bogusevic, David DeJesus and Dioner Navarro.

The Cubs have hit for power this season. They entered Thursday's 5-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers ranked second in the National League in home runs and doubles. But they also ranked next to last in on-base percentage and hits and 13th in runs scored.

Epstein sounded bound and determined the other day to fix that problem, but with limited resources available for the foreseeable future it won't be easy.

"Honestly, improving all aspects of this team for the long term is our priority," Epstein said. "If you just looked at the offense for next year, and in so doing you sacrificed defense or all of sudden you don't have enough resources allocated to your pitching staff, then you can pat yourself on the back for raising your team batting average by 15 points and you've cost yourself in other areas, you really haven't accomplished anything.

"We have goals. We have a vision for this organization which includes very high standards in all those areas. We want to lead the league in getting on base and still hit for power while doing it.

"And we want to play good defense at every position on the field. And we want to have pitchers who throw strikes but still get swings and misses. It's hard to do all those things.

"Right now, we're nowhere close to where we want to be offensively. Getting on base is going to be the hallmark of this organization, and we're not good at it yet. Frankly, a lot of our most talented young hitters that we have coming tend to be aggressive naturally on the patience side.

"They're going to hit for a lot of power. We are challenging ourselves every day to change that over the course of the long haul: How do we develop more patience here even though a lot of our more talented players tend to be more aggressive?

"All I can say to answer that is, yeah, we're going to get there. Can we make that an immediate priority right away for 2014, given some of the challenges we have to address and given where we are in the building process? I hope so. But we're not going to sell out to do it."

Sveum, also a hitting coach by trade, addressed the subject of building a better offense before Thursday's game. In addition to approach at the plate, Sveum also noted that productive offenses also have experienced hitters.

The Cubs traded away power threat Alfonso Soriano this year. They also dealt DeJesus, who was an example-setter as far as having a good approach at the plate.

"The bottom line of this is instead of telling people to take, it's basically emphasizing more and more getting a pitch you can drive, just being patient to get a pitch you can drive somewhere and lay off all the borderline stuff," Sveum said. "That's the offense you want to build no matter what.

"You look at all the prolific offenses, they're all 27-32 years old. That's when it all starts happening. The Red Sox. Everybody throws the comparisons this and that, and you want it right now. The bottom line is those teams have all 27-32 to 35 year-old players and have 10,000 professional at-bats."

Rizzo and Castro will be in next year's lineup. This year's rookie, Junior Lake, also figures to play a lot. Minor-league prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant figure to be knocking at the door.

If the Cubs are looking for someone to show them the way, it likely won't be an expensive free agent on the market this winter. It will more likely be in the form of a midpriced guy with on-base skills along the lines of DeJesus.

Epstein/Hoyer like to emphasize that the rebuilding plan is a "process" and that "progress isn't always linear."

In other words, this could take awhile. And Sveum deserves a shot to see it through, at least for the length of his contract.

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