This won't be a playoff year for the Cubs, but it already has been a testing year for first year manager Dale Sveum.
His boss believes he has passed his toughest tests.
``We like what we see from Dale going into the future,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``We made our bed in May and June [going 20-34], so we won't change our [trade] plans. But it doesn't mean we're not happy with how we've been playing of late.
``It's good to see clean games. The defense is better and the pitching. The vibe around the team in the clubhouse is positive. I give Dale a lot of credit.''
Hoyer said Sveum has remained positive around the players through the bad early months through now, as their play has improved.
``He has stayed the same person,'' Hoyer said. ``It bodes well for the future.''
Sveum credits the Cubs' improved defense to the players' work commitment but also for them ``buying into'' his formula of positioning defenders according to a hitter's tendencies.
Sveum's belief is to position the defense according to where an opposing hitter will hit the majority of the time.
``The players and the pitchers have said `wow, this really works,' '' Sveum said. ``It's a few less steps to the ball, so you'll be a little better fielder.''
He said Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro are turning double plays efficiently and first baseman Anthony Rizzo ``is a calming guy at first'' as a fielder. The outfielders have done well, he said, especially an improved Alfonso Soriano in left. ``He's done a great job on his [sore] legs,'' Sveum said.
The Cubs have turned at least one double play in each of the last nine games, including an inning-ending double play in the third Saturday. It is their longest such defensive stretch since a nine-game stretch in July, 1994.
PILING UP PITCHING
The Cubs stockpiled pitching in the June draft, with 17 hurlers among their 29 signed draftees.
Hoyer admitted it would be some time before this crop of draftees can be expected to contribute.
``Given the number of pitchers we picked, you won't see them for several years, but it's about having a number of good drafts and getting people signed,'' he said.
Baseball instituted a new system of signing draftees this year, with a July 13 deadline imposed.
``It's a good feeling to have signed so many because we're not used to going to a deadline,'' he said. ``It was a learning process for everyone.''
Top selection Albert Almora is a high school outfielder.
IN A PINCH
Reed Johnson started Saturday's game in center field and got a bunt single in the third contributing to the first run.
But his value has come more as a pinch hitter. He leads the majors with 11 pinch hits.
``It's one of the hardest things to do,'' Sveum said. ``It's hard enough trying to hit every day. But he is one of the top guys in baseball [off the bench]. He's another guy who comes to work every day at an older age who tried to make himself a better player.''