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.”
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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.”