Where Cubs defense stands with a week left in the regular season
They say defense wins championships and that was certainly true of the 2016 Cubs.
That group was one of the greatest defensive teams in baseball history and it absolutely helped them in October when every out counts.
So how is the 2020 team shaping up defensively with the postseason just around the corner?
“I think we’ve played some pretty good defense at times,” David Ross said. “I don’t think we’re where we want to be completely, but we’ve had some really good flashes of defense this year, for me. We’ve beat ourselves on occasions with some defensive plays, but nothing that’s stood out over any length of time.
“I think we’ve made a lot of difficult plays. I feel like the guys are playing with energy.
They flashed the leather in the top of the 9th inning of Sunday night’s loss. Javy Báez made a fantastic barehanded play on a ball that deflected off the glove of pitcher Andrew Chafin and then Kris Bryant robbed the next batter of a hit with a diving stop.
“I feel like KB’s playing some of the best third base I’ve seen him play since maybe early on in his career,” Ross said. “Javy’s really stepped up the last probably 10 days or so with just playing with that little extra giddy-up in his step.
“Nico [Hoerner] is really one of the more trusted guys when I put him out there on defense — he really seems to have taken to second base really easily and smooth and playing that shift super deep, doing a good job. Obviously Anthony [Rizzo] has a lot of hardware over there.
“Our outfield — [Jason Heyward], [Kyle Schwarber] has played good to me. I think we’re in a good place. Willson [Contreras] — the catching crew’s doing great. I think we’ve got a lot of positives on defense.”
The numbers support Ross’ stance, as the Cubs rank 6th in baseball this season in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and have the 8th-fewest errors.
Báez has been leading the charge, with 5 DRS while Hoerner is right behind with 4 DRS at second base. Rizzo (+3 DRS), Bryant (+2) and veteran Jason Kipnis (+2) also receive positive marks. (Hoerner has been credited with 1 DRS while playing 31 innings at third base and has a 0 DRS rating in 38 innings at shortstop.)
Sunday’s plays by Báez and Bryant were impressive, but there was also Schwarber getting pulled after misplaying a ball in left field that led to an extra base for Jake Cave and — eventually — a Twins run.
“I just don’t think that guy should get to third base,” Schwarber said after the game, taking ownership of his play. “He did. I put [Yu Darvish] in a bad spot, put the team in a bad spot there. Gotta learn from it and move on.”
Beyond that hiccup, the rest of the homestand was packed with solid defense. Ian Happ recorded a pair of assists from center field in the same inning Saturday and Heyward threw out Francisco Lindor at home plate Tuesday:
Talk about Gold Glove defense. pic.twitter.com/bLZnzpj4yP— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 16, 2020
Báez and Hoerner also showed off their defensive prowess in Friday night’s 1-0 win, teaming up for a dazzling double play in the 9th inning:
So smooth. pic.twitter.com/6Q9wVIbGJu— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 19, 2020
Defense like that is paramount in tight games and the Cubs will be playing in a lot of those if they’re able to accomplish their goal of winning the World Series this fall.
“I think our defense at the moment has helped us keep our momentum on our side when we do have a small lead,” Heyward said. “Also just giving a chance to go into the next inning when we’re batting and put up a run or 2 and keep us in the game.”
Heyward has 5 Gold Gloves in his career while Rizzo has 3 Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove in his trophy case.
Contreras is one of the best throwing catchers in the game and he and Victor Caratini have both earned positive ratings in pitch framing metrics.
Ross also has a weapon off the bench in Billy Hamilton, who has 75 career DRS while flashing his blazing speed and range in center field. Since the Cubs acquired Hamilton on Sept. 7, Ross has utilized him often as a way to upgrade the defense late in games — inserting Hamilton in center and moving Ian Happ from center to left field in place of Schwarber.
Hoerner presents another wild-card as he can play above-average defense at three different infield spots and has experience in center field. Ildemaro Vargas has also impressed with his glovework at second base so far.
With the Wild-Card round starting in nine days, the Cubs defense is about to take center stage.