WASHINGTON -- After being outscored 22-7 over their first three games against the Nationals this week, the Cubs have had a fair introduction to what now stands as the best team in baseball.
When the Cubs hosted the Nats back on Opening Day, Washington was coming off an 80-81 2011 campaign with a seemingly decent shot at contending for the playoffs this season. Five months later, the Nats are virtually assured of a postseason spot after seeing their wealth of young talent find sustained Major League success at the same time.
So with the Cubs toiling 31 games behind the Reds in the National League Central entering Thursday, manager Dale Sveum recognizes a potential roadmap for his club.
"It just goes to show where you've got to be, when it's all said and done," Sveum said of the Nats' success. "Every position, the pitching, everything -- it just goes to show a lot of young guys that, wow, this is what a contending, World Series-type team looks like.
"They've got to understand there's a lot of people on this field for the Nationals that lost 100 games a couple years in a row. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but all these guys have improved quite a bit over their Major League careers."
Sveum's comments came at an interesting time, one afternoon after he said Wednesday night's 9-1 loss to the Nats was "just men playing against boys." Indeed, the Cubs have used 20 rookies -- including 11 pitchers -- this season, a feat that hasn't occurred since 1974.
Even more interesting -- and, perhaps contradictory -- is the timing of the comment after it was 19-year-old Bryce Harper who did the most damage for the Nats on Wednesday. Harper knocked two solo homers to finish 2-for-3 with two walks.
"Yeah, I thought about that after I said that," Sveum said. "It's a 19-year-old kid. One thing about him, even in the history of the game, there's been only a couple of those kind that have ever come along. Alex Rodriguez was almost 20 years ago now, and obviously [Harper's] another one of those people to come around."
Regarding Harper's home runs, the first of which struck the back wall of the Cubs' bullpen in left-center field, Sveum was even more superlative.
"That's about as good as I've seen bat speed in the big leagues, period, let alone from a 19-year-old kid," he said.
Sveum reflects on getting ejected
WASHINGTON -- After being tossed from Wednesday night's game against the Nationals, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the ejection was a rare sign of a lack of patience.
With no outs and a Nats runner on first base, Michael Morse stepped to the plate and took a ball from Cubs starter Chris Volstad. After the pitch, home-plate umpire Larry Vanover ejected Sveum from the dugout. Sveum sprinted onto the field to argue face to face with Vanover before crew chief and first-base umpire Jerry Lane intervened.
"Sometimes it takes a lot for me to get worked up about something," Sveum said Thursday. "As far as team-wise, it's a matter of, I am a very patient guy. That's one thing I got going for me. But I'm not going to lie to you, patience can only go so far sometimes, too."
After the Cubs ultimately lost, 9-1, Sveum said Vanover had been "eyeballing" Chicago's dugout the inning before. Volstad also said there had been some close calls the dugout disagreed with during that frame, though he was on the mound during Sveum's ejection and was unsure what exactly had happened.
"You do snap, and usually when I do it, not too many people are going to see it except maybe the individual," Sveum said. "You try not to have too many team meetings because if you have too many, then you know you're not a very good team."
The Cubs entered Thursday's series finale at risk of being swept in a four-game series in Washington for the first time since the Nationals returned to the nation's capital.
Starlin Castro entered Thursday four hits shy of 500 for his career at 22 years old. Only 27 players in Major League history have reached 500 hits before turning 23.
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.