Cubs’ early defensive troubles mirror 2010
By GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com March 1, 2011 11:56PM
Kosuke Fukudome provided one of the Cubs’ defensive highlights of the spring Tuesday with a long running catch at the wall. | Marcio Jose Sanchez~AP
Updated: June 29, 2011 12:20AM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If pitching and defense win championships, as major-league sources say, then the Cubs look halfway there through three exhibition games under new field management.
The second-worst fielding team in the majors last season already has nine errors in three spring games after committing three more Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants — by shortstop Starlin Castro (high throw), second baseman Blake DeWitt (hard grounder off his glove/body) and second baseman Bobby Scales (chopper off glove).
That they have 31 more games to work on it is either good news or enough to make a fan cringe, considering they’re on pace for 102 for roughly a month of games. Not to mention that eight of the errors have been committed by six players projected to be on the Opening Day roster.
‘‘Whenever you make mistakes, there’s a bit of concern,’’ said manager Mike Quade, who has emphasized fundamentals even more than in a typical spring training. ‘‘But it’s the first week. I will look all day long at the positive. And whether we win or lose, it is about the process.’’
Quade has pledged to spend the first week of games mostly watching and evaluating before making tough judgments, getting on guys or assigning remedial work.
‘‘If I start raising hell after Game 1, first of all, it goes against who I am,’’ he said. ‘‘And I don’t know if you can lose 60 guys at once, but . . . . We’ll be all right.’’
The Cubs have turned in a few impressive plays along the way, including shortstop Augie Ojeda (ranging far with a spin throw) and center fielder Fernando Perez (diving catch) on back-to-back plays Monday, and Castro (charge and flip) and right fielder Kosuke Fukudome (long run to the wall) on back-to-back plays Tuesday.
But on a day the Cubs walked across a ‘‘World Champions’’ logo behind home plate at Scottsdale Stadium and were reminded of how slim the difference was between being left out and winning the whole thing, the mistakes seemed especially conspicuous.
‘‘Quade’s going to start cutting off fingers,’’ Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster cracked. ‘‘One at a time. Every error is a finger cut off. So you really better start making plays or you’re not going to have a glove hand.’’
Not that they’re getting much out of them now anyway.
‘‘Mistakes happen. Get them out of the way, find out now,’’ Quade said. ‘‘And with some of the mistakes that have been made, they haven’t been recurring things. I prefer to turn the page and believe that these guys are going to get those little things ironed out and get comfortable as we go through this.’’
He might be right. The bigger issue is how much the Cubs can improve on their often-ugly body of work in the field last season with a team of position players that returns largely intact.
If the Cubs didn’t already understand the importance of that, they repeatedly were reminded Tuesday that it took the Giants until the final day of last season to win the National League West by one game over the San Diego Padres — the team the Cubs beat three times in a four-game series that final week to help the Giants’ cause.
‘‘I’m still waiting for the wine and some of the other stuff that was promised [after that assist],’’ Quade said with a smile before marveling out loud about the postseason run produced by the team that almost didn’t make it — especially after both the Padres’ and Giants’ managers shared concerns in pregame chats that week about whether they had enough on their roster even to survive the division race.
‘‘It’s a good lesson for all of us,’’ Quade said. ‘‘Look, this can happen in spite of some things — we’re short here or there. No, no, no. Let’s just go play and see what happens.’’
Just make sure that catching the ball is part of what’s happening. Because for all the Giants’ shortcomings last season — even with all their high-level pitching — they don’t sniff the playoffs without one of the top fielding teams in the majors.
The Giants ranked fourth in the majors in fielding, less than one-thousandth of a percentage point from the top. The Cubs, on the other hand, were less than one-thousandth of a point from the bottom.
‘‘It’s crazy,’’ Demspter said. ‘‘You think about it, and everybody talked about [the importance of] games in September. They won the division by one game, and they won the World Series. It shows you how important every single game you play is.’’
Every game secured because of a clutch double play with the tying run at third. Every game that slips away by the run that scored because of the play that wasn’t made.