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Thursday, July 14, 2011
Cubs' defense holding them back

By Bruce Levine

CHICAGO -- Pitching and defense was a real problem for the Chicago Cubs in the first half. Their pitching woes have been well-documented through the first 92 games, but the defense is something that should be improved upon as youngsters such as shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney continue to get more major league experience and repetitions.

The Cubs lead baseball with 77 errors. It seems almost on a daily basis there are missed double play opportunities or a bad cutoff throw or an error that sets up a big inning. It appears Castro and Barney are getting better every day, but they continue to make mistakes and have a ways to go.

"Do they still make their share of mistakes? Yes, they do," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "But you can see the improvement in both of them. Still we are inexperienced in the middle, and it seems like we make mistake here and there that we just can't hit or pitch our way out of it. Some of the other teams are able to do that."

Although Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome are decent outfielders, both lack the extra range to cut off balls in the gaps. Alfonso Soriano is what he is -- a below-average outfielder. In the infield, besides Castro and Barney, third baseman Aramis Ramirez has good hands and a reliable arm but has limited range to his left. On certain pitches you can see him cheating that way when he sees a fastball count to certain hitters.

At first, Carlos Pena has saved the infield at least 15 errors with his great athleticism and an ability to pick balls out of the dirt.

"[Pena] has made a few mistakes lately which is surprising," Quade said. "But overall he has been outstanding over there."

Quade insists that better defense alone won't change things in the second half.

"Mistakes are going to happen," Quade said. "We have to clean them up the best we can. But we also need to overcome some of the little things with the pitcher picking the team up and getting a big out or a hitter getting a timely hit. If one mistake a night is going to hurt us it probably means we aren't doing some things in other areas we need to."