Cubs Defense Getting Noticed, For All The Right Reasons

A lot has been made about the Cubs re-dedication, or should I say dedication to the defensive side of the game this Spring, but is it just all talk?  I know it’s early, but the numbers suggest that maybe the Cubs are on to something.  Through three spring training games last year the Cubs committed a whopping nine errors, this year, one.  The typical excuse used by many, including the coaching staff last year was that it was early, and mistakes will happen.  Well, maybe that’s why that coaching staff, well most of it, is now unemployed.  Ballplayers are ballplayers, and typically most of them learn the fundamentals at a very early age, that doesn’t mean that those players shouldn’t continue to practice them.  Half the battle with defense is a players desire to actually field a ball the correct way, for years Alfonso Soriano was allowed to hop when making catches.  Aramis Ramirez was allowed to ole balls left and right, and there was no consequence, more importantly it never changed, those days are over.

It starts at the top, Theo came in and brought in coaches and players that are fundamentally sound.  Dale Sveum gets it, “That’s probably the biggest obstacle of all,” Sveum said. “Defense is everything, whether it’s (pitchers’ practice), pitching and catching the ball and throwing to the right bases and hitting cutoff men.”  Hearing the manager talk about how important defense is should give a glimpse into how bad the Cubs organization really was when it came to that.  The Cubs were so far gone as far as defense that the organization was the butt of a joke when they announced that they were having players read handouts about the proper way to play defense.  That is mind-blowing, and it’s terrible that it had to come to that, but at least the people in charge now actually care enough about fixing it so much so that they didn’t mind a little public embarrassment.

No matter how much the coaches talk, the people who are really going to make the difference are the players.  Starlin Castro was asked what he wanted to improve upon when he arrived at camp, “My defense,” he says.  Castro is the cornerstone of the Cubs infield for many years to come, he’s an all-star already, and all of that came with 29 errors.  It would be easy for the young shortstop to mail it in on defense because he knew he could get by with just the bat, but he’s not.  That tells me a lot, the kid wants to learn, and knows that the people in charge also want him to learn.  This brings me back to a game last summer when a ball was popped up and Castro and Barney lost it in the sun, here was Mike Quade post game.

We set a bad tone, [losing a] ball in the sun. [They] are communicating all the way. But I look back at this whole game and look at that play. The sun’s been in the same spot for however long Wrigley Field’s been here. Those are the kind of mistakes & there are some you accept. Others have to be taken care of.”

He continued

“I think our veterans are doing a pretty (expletive) good job. I see intensity from my center fielder and Rammy is playing really well and that doesn’t mean we don’t make some mistakes.”

If Quade wasn’t already on his way out of Chicago, he was officially gone after these comments in my opinion.  He, as the manager, just contradicted what every player and every fan had watched all year up to that point.  The focus wasn’t on fixing the real problems with the defense, it was to put the blame on the youngest guys to somehow deflect any criticism he was receiving?  I don’t really know what he was doing, all I know is that teaching is the best way to correct errors, not making an example of someone, and that’s important to remember that as the Spring continues and the Cubs head North, how will Sveum deal with the young guys when it comes to defensive lapses.  His straight forward approach makes me excited for what’s to come, he doesn’t pull any punches, he gets Castro for a couple of days and offers this, “He has a tendency to get a ground ball and look over his shoulder and that causes this shoulder to turn and he has to open up,” Sveum said. “That’s when you see the balls go down or they fly high. But if he keeps everything straight and focuses on the first baseman it’s a much easier play. A lot of young guys tend to do something like that or pick up the runner when they’re running down the base, and then it just causes problems.”  Amazing, identifying a problem, and then going about trying to correct it through teaching.  I don’t want this post to come off as living in the past and railing on Quade, it’s easy to do with some of the feelings I have for him, but the point I’m trying to make is that defense really is important, and now I feel like I’m not the only one that knows this.  The manager, and more importantly the players know it, and seem willing to make the necessary adjustments and effort to make sure it’s not forgotten.

Thanks for reading

George Cotugno

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