By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — Rickey Renteria has had a successful first half to his Cubs managing career despite having a last-place ball club. Normally, managers are judged by wins and losses. In the case of Renteria, the improvement of his young players and establishing a positive work atmosphere supplant winning for the time being.
The Cubs had three All-Stars named to this year’s Midsummer Classic. A major part of Renteria’s marching orders were to get younger talented players such as Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro back on track, and both 24-year-olds had productive first halves of the season. The positive but firm approach of the manager and his staff has clicked so far with the young team.
“He will let you know when you are doing something they like or don’t like,” reliever James Russell said. “I think it is great to get the positive reinforcement. That is especially true for the young guys, who will have their mishaps along the way. Some will make stupid mistakes, but the way they are handled will determine how quickly they develop or fall by the wayside. Rickey has created a good work place for all of us.”
Establishing leaders on the Cubs will be a natural transition as more farm system players continue to make their way to Clark and Addison. For now, Rizzo has become the guy for some players and Castro for others.
“It is not like I will say I am the leader,” Rizzo said. “You come to play every day, and I don’t embrace anything but the guys on this team. I love them, and I just want us to keep getting better.”
No real controversial situations have occurred for the Cubs’ first-year manager though he does lead all of baseball with five manager ejections.
“They have been playing hard all season,” Renteria said over the weekend. “I believe we have done well as a club. Early on, we had certain things that we weren’t doing as well as we like. The bullpen was a little erratic at times. I think starting pitching has been good all year … I am happy how we have continued to play the games. We have been in almost every game this season.”
After Chicago traded its two top pitchers, the job won’t be any easier in the second half for Renteria. The team has gone 2-8 since the July 4 deal that sent Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to Oakland for three young players, including prized prospect Addison Russell, and a player to be named.
“I feel pretty good about where I am at because you get to know your personnel,” Renteria said. “There is nothing like being with the players and staff on a daily basis. That is how you get a feel about who they are and what they are about.”
Renteria has been good with the media, although he’s given some defensive responses in the form of, “That’s our business not yours.” For the most part, he gives well thought out answers while protecting his one-on-one relationship and trust with his club.
If this was a grading system, Renteria would probably get high marks in all areas other than umpire relationships. While former manager Dale Sveum did a solid job in his two years as the Cubs day and night watchman, Renteria appears to be the right guy for now.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.