Epstein liking what he's seen from Cubs lately

Epstein liking what he's seen from Cubs lately

CHICAGO -- After a rough 3-11 start, the Cubs are 9-6 in their last 15 games entering Tuesday, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sees some good trends.

"There have been some really good things happening," said Epstein on Tuesday. "It's baseball, so you don't get too high when things are going well or too low when they're not. The effort has been there all year, and we've been playing hard and trying to play the game the right way.

"It's hard to see sometimes when you're losing close games and when breaks are going against you like they were early, but everyone can appreciate it when the results come with it as they have lately."

Cubs pitchers have compiled a 2.64 ERA in the last 15 games entering Tuesday, the fourth-best mark in the Major Leagues during that stretch, and the team was batting .262, which ranks seventh in the National League.

Looking for positives? Third baseman Ian Stewart, for example, was batting .381 in his last seven games entering Tuesday to raise his average from .160 to .208. Geovany Soto was batting .167 overall, but he was 5-for-17 in his last five games. Ryan Dempster entered Tuesday's game with a 0.95 ERA, yet has not won in four starts.

"I think Stewart and Soto both have been hitting into tough luck all year, and it's starting to turn for both of them," Epstein said. "They've really been having quality at-bats for weeks, and now balls are starting to fall for them or being driven out of the ballpark, which is a way to take care of your own luck sometimes. Demp has been as good as anybody. The won-loss record is out of your control sometimes, but he's done a great job for us every time he's taken the ball."

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer showed faith in first baseman Bryan LaHair, 29, who was the Pacific Coast League MVP last year, and he's rewarded them with a .388 average and eight home runs entering Tuesday.

"He's always been a really good hitter," Epstein said. "I'm happy for him. He's had a chance to show it at the Major League level and put up consistently good at-bats. The results aren't going to always be this Ruthian, so to speak, but the quality of at-bats will remain consistent. It's not a fluke."

What Epstein likes is LaHair's approach at the plate.

"He's recognizing pitches out of the pitcher's hand early, and he's letting the ball travel and get deep," Epstein said. "He's really short and compact to the ball, so he's hitting the ball hard and hitting it where it's pitched, and he's covering just about the whole strike zone. He'll go through slumps and everything, but it's really encouraging not just what he's doing, but how he's accomplishing it. It's nice to see -- I'm really happy for him and for us."

Epstein also likes how manager Dale Sveum handled things during the first 14 games when thing weren't going well.

"That was a pretty rough first couple of weeks, and Dale handled everything with a real calmness and confidence that I think is genuine," Epstein said. "I think players pick up on that. They like playing for him."