The Cubs’ 9-2 start is their best through 11 games since 2016 (also 9-2). It’s probably not fair to compare anything about this team in this surreal set of circumstances to that team. But one element of this group that reminds the Cubs of that fateful season is the stellar defense they’ve played so far.
“Yeah, that’s certainly what it feels like right now,” said Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks Tuesday of whether the defense compares to 2016.
The 2016 Cubs lapped the league in advanced fielding metrics, finishing first in Defensive Runs Saved (91) and Ultimate Zone Rating (47.1). DRS rates how far or below average (0) a team is defensively, while UZR quantifies how many runs a team saves or gives up through their fielding.
Through 11 games, the 2020 Cubs are first in DRS (15; the Dodgers are second at 14) and fifth in UZR (2.8).
“The defense has just been unbelievable right now,” Hendricks said. “It gives all the pitchers more confidence in the world to go right at guys.”
Hendricks is well equipped to make that evaluation because his game is all about inducing soft contact. That’s also the case for Alec Mills, who benefited in his start Monday from several excellent plays by David Bote at third base.
In the fourth inning, Bote, positioned near shortstop in a shift, ranged to his right, picked a grounder on a short hop and made a strong off-balance throw to retire Alex Gordon. In the seventh, he charged a bunt barehanded and threw out Adalberto Mondesi.
“Obviously, when that happens it’s a big energizer for the whole team,” Mills said Monday. “Bote made two really good plays. It does nothing but fire you up.”
Those are only a few examples of strong showings by Cubs fielders in recent days. Kyle Schwarber threw out Jacob Stallings at the plate on a single to leadoff the 10th inning against the Pirates Sunday. Javier Báez executed another magical tag on a Mondesi stolen base attempt Monday.
Kris Bryant made two diving plays at third on Tuesday, including a game-saver in the ninth. Cubs manager David Ross said Bryant looks as good as he’s seen him defensively, highlighting the work Bryant put in with bench coach Andy Green in spring training.
“I think KB’s played phenomenal defense this year for us, especially at third base, and that’s not easy to do as much as I’ve moved him around,” Ross said Tuesday. “He’s really athletic over there, moving well, the glove’s working. It’s fun to watch our defense right now. We’ve got some really slick gloves out there."
“All around, guys have been making all the plays, even making the great ones,” Hendricks said. “Everybody's in a really good spot right now.”