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Cubs Mon Jun 20 2011

Cubs Defense Continues to Disappoint

soriano johnson lost in ivy.jpgAlfonso Soriano and Reed Johnson search for A-Rod's ninth-inning double / Tribune photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo

Before we plunge headlong into the first of three Cubs-Sox games this week, let's not let last night's events at Wrigley Field go without comment.

While the White Sox were righting the ship with a second straight win in Arizona -- this after a Friday loss that stripped bare all the drawbacks of stewardship by a 75-year-old owner who consistently trades two marshmallows tomorrow for one marshmallow today -- the Cubs were busy falling apart on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Specifically, the sons of Tinker to Evers to Chance were an absolute mess in the field, losing 10-4 in the rubber game against the Yankees thanks to a host of defensive mistakes.

Oh, of course, the Cubs officially committed zero errors. It was the kind of performance that drives home the singular uselessness of that subjective statistic. But what the standard box score obscured was nakedly visible to anyone who watched the game, including ESPN's sterling broadcast trio of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine: This is an awful defense.

More precisely, that was an awful defense last night. We'll cut the Cubs an inch of slack because they had a few backups in there, what with Mike Quade panicking at the sight of Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia and benching all of his left-handed hitters.

But most of the problems came from the regular starters. They are the reason the Cubs have the fifth-worst defense in baseball, according to the Ultimate Zone Rating calculations at Fangraphs.com.

They, primarily, are the reason we saw the following cavalcade of mistakes last night:

In the fourth inning, with one out and Alex Rodriguez on first, Geovany Soto fielded a nubber in front of the plate and threw to second for the force out, but shortstop Starlin Castro took his foot off the base before receiving the throw. Castro was hurrying to complete a 2-6-3 double play that never really had a chance with Robinson Cano hustling down the line, and instead, both runners were safe.

A-Rod, who should have been out, scored on a single and then a walk loaded the bases, still with one out, for No. 8 hitter Eduardo Nunez. He hit a high, slow chopper to third base, where Aramis Ramirez fielded the ball a step or two in front of the bag and made the wrong decision.

There wasn't time for an inning-ending double play, but Ramirez seemed to have plenty of time to get the force at home and bring Sabathia to the plate with two outs. Instead, Ramirez retreated to tag third, allowing the run to score, cutting the lead to 4-3. Cubs pitcher Randy Wells yelped in dismay.

In the sixth, A-Rod led off with a single and moved to second when rookie second baseman D.J. LeMahieu played a slow grounder politely, waiting for Rodriguez to pass before fielding the ball and throwing to first.

As the broadcasters immediately noted, LeMahieu should have charged the ball to keep the runner from moving into scoring position. He might have gotten run over by Rodriguez, but that would have been an automatic out. Instead, the Yankees turned the runner on second into a game-tying sacrifice fly.

Castro made another mistake in the seventh, though he didn't get burned by it. Already playing too far back against Brett Gardner, one of the fastest players in baseball, Castro sat back and played Gardner's ground ball into an awkward short-hop, then really had to rush his throw to get the out by a fraction of a step.

As Valentine pointed out, for all of Castro's physical tools, he has plenty of room to improve his decision-making, particularly when it comes to knowing other players' strengths and weaknesses. Too many of his league-high 15 errors come when he rushes a throw or throws a ball he shouldn't.

And finally, the coup de grace came on back-to-back plays in the ninth inning, when the Yankees boosted their three-run lead to an unassailable six runs. They went down as doubles, but Mark Teixeira's fly ball into the tricky right field corner should have been caught by an outfielder more experienced than jack-of-all-trades Jeff Baker, and A-Rod's double to left-center was a deep fly ball that fell just shy of the wall, allowed to drop by Alfonso Soriano and Reed Johnson.

It was an ugly display all around, a reminder that the Cubs' problems this season go well beyond their peculiar inability to hit in the clutch.

 
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