How's the D-peat going? Cubs see improving defense but know things can be better

How's the D-peat going? Cubs see improving defense but know things can be better

Remember Joe Maddon’s proposed “D-peat”?

The Cubs skipper preached defensive dominance in spring training, pitching it as one of the most important aspects of the team repeating as World Series champions as a follow up to smashing that curse in 2016.

“That’s what the Chicago Cubs are kind of made out of,” outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said Saturday. “When we’re at our best, our defense is impeccable. So that’s kind of something that we strive for. We want to stick to the fundamentals and make the play.”

So how’s that D-peat going?

A casual observer might’ve been horrified to tune in Friday and see the Cubs commit three errors in a 6-1 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Ian Happ collided with Kyle Schwarber in left-center field, resulting in no one catching a fly ball. Addison Russell allowed a base runner to advance to second when he lobbed what he believed to be a dead ball over the head of pitcher Eddie Butler. And Kris Bryant chucked a ball well wide of home plate trying to nab a runner.

The Pirates made three errors, too. It was an ugly fielding day all around at the Friendly Confines.

“The one is a communication thing,” Maddon explained, going through the mistakes from Friday’s game. “I don’t want to downgrade it, but that’s just guys talking to each other. You’ve got two young outfielders that have not played together. Now, Addison just has to know, ‘I’ve got to get permission from the umpire to throw the ball (back to the pitcher).’ That, to me, is under (the) mental component.

“We’re doing a lot of good things on defense that I don’t want to get confused with the mental mistake, the collision, the miscommunication. I’m not defending it, I’m just saying that should be easily cleaned up. (The Russell mistake) should never happen again, never.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Of course, Friday’s error-filled performance was just one game in a long season. The Cubs aren’t committing three errors on a daily basis, but they are committing a lot of them compared to the rest of the National League. They rank second out of 15 teams with 59. Take that stat as you will, as the Milwaukee Brewers, the team the Cubs are chasing in the NL Central standings, have made the most errors in the league, 69.

The D-peat was one of the topics brought up by Maddon in his annual midseason meeting Thursday, though the manager was quick to explain that fielding isn’t the team’s biggest problem. Getting consistency from the starting rotation and hitting better with runners in scoring position are higher on Maddon’s to-do list.

But obviously he’s paying attention to his defense and is seeing some improvement, particularly as his team gets healthier.

“Overall, I think we’ve been playing a better level of defense more recently,” Maddon said. “Addy’s been great at short, he’s been consistent. Javy (Baez), I think, at second had been outstanding. (Willson) Contreras behind the plate, my goodness, he’s among the best right now as far as I can tell. And it’s always good to have (Jason Heyward) back in right.

“I think we’ve gradually gotten back into the scheme of things defensively. The next two things to me are consistency among starting pitchers, that’s what’s going to get us there, and then solid situational offense. Those are the two areas to me. The defense is gradually ascending to the point where I want to see it. But we have to pitch like we can daily, and we have to — runner on third, less than two outs, we’ve got to get better at scoring that run. We’ve got to accumulate those runs, and that’s going to put us in a better position in the middle and the latter part of the game.”

As you can tell, there are more pressing things on Maddon’s mind when it comes to getting the Cubs back on track, out of their season-long hover around .500 and back on the road toward a World Series repeat.

But defense is a big piece of the puzzle, a puzzle that the Cubs are still looking to solve as the All-Star break arrives.

“I feel like every game we play, we’re in it. I don’t feel like we’ve lost a game or a couple games because of key errors,” Almora said. “I feel like we’re doing a good job, but I know we can do way better in every aspect of the game, offensively and defensively.”

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

David Ross will not only be managing former teammates with the Cubs in 2020, but he'll be coaching alongside one, too.

The Cubs are expected to add former MLB catcher Mike Napoli to Ross' coaching staff, per multiple reports. Napoli will assume the title of quality assurance coach, vacated by Chris Denorfia, who held the position for one season.

Napoli played in parts of 12 big-league seasons from 2006-17 with the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox and Indians. He won the 2013 World Series with Boston — alongside Ross and Cubs starter Jon Lester — and was also a key figure with the 2016 Indians, whom the Cubs defeated in the World Series. He finished his career with a .246/.346/.475 slash line with 267 home runs. 

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Cubs pursued Napoli last winter, though the 38-year-old wanted to take a short break from baseball before jumping into coaching. He'll join a Cubs coaching staff that is almost finalized, with the exception of one vacant base coach spot. Here's what the group looks like right now:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — Mike Napoli

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the organization hopes to have the coaching staff finalized by the end of the week. With Napoli on board, the Cubs are one step closer to making that goal a reality.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

When the Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish at the 2017 trade deadline, he was expected to be one of the final pieces to their championship puzzle.

After a solid nine-start regular season with Los Angeles, Darvish was stellar early in the postseason. In two starts (one in the NLDS, one in the NLCS), he allowed two runs across 11.1 innings, racking up 14 strikeouts compared to a single walk.

Things went downhill for Darvish in the World Series, where he surrendered nine runs in 3.1 innings across two starts. This includes Game 7, when he threw 47 pitches in 1.2 innings, allowing five runs in a 5-1 series-clinching win for the Astros.

Darvish became a scapegoat for the Dodgers' World Series loss and faced heavy backlash from fans. Consequentially, he had concerns about re-signing with the Dodgers when he became a free agent that offseason, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, due to fears of how the city's anger towards him would affect his family.

Two years later, fans are now apologizing for directing their anger at Darvish for his World Series performance. Why?

Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole opposing teams' signs electronically during the 2017 season. This conflicts with the notion of Darvish tipping his pitches in the World Series, which an anonymous Astros player told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci was the case.

The notion of Darvish tipping his pitches is now in question altogether:

As has often been the case this offseason, Darvish had a brilliant reaction to the whole situation on Twitter:

Darvish joined the Cubs in 2018 on a six-year deal. After an injury-riddled debut season with the Cubs, he took off post-All-Star break in 2019 and is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter in 2020. Although what happened in 2017 can't be changed, it's nice to see he's moved forward.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.