ST. LOUIS – Even with their Gold Glove right fielder on the disabled list and their All-Star shortstop sidelined again Friday, the Cubs opened the weekend series in St. Louis expecting their slumping team fielding to show quick signs of improving.
“That’s what I’m looking for,” manager Joe Maddon said, responding to the day off Thursday to rest and the 72-degree weather in St. Louis.
It certainly didn’t figure to get worse than it has been in recent days.
“It goes to show you: You think of defense as sort of constant,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “These guys have really good defensive ability. But clearly as a team it’s been like anything else. We’re definitely in a down rut right now defensively that we need to get out of.”
The Cubs allowed unearned runs in five consecutive games entering the series (eight total in the five), and rank in the middle of the pack in the majors in several defensive metrics, including turning batted balls into outs – after leading the majors by a wide margin last year.
“Borderline spectacular” is what Hoyer called last year’s performance. “Not only was it clean, but we also made big plays at big times, and it just felt like that happened a lot.
“And this year we’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Hoyer added. “We haven’t really made those big defensive plays. I don’t have an explanation for that. We have the same players. I think it’s going to happen. But it hasn’t yet.
“That was the backbone of our team last year, and we just need to get back to that point.”
Getting Jason Heyward back in right field, possibly at home Tuesday, when he’s eligible to return from the disabled list should help. He swung a bat yesterday for the first time since jamming his right index finger making a sliding catch Friday, and said it went well.
Shortstop Addison Russell played catch before Friday’s game but was out of the lineup for a second straight game because of the shoulder soreness that might also take him out of the next two games.
“I just wanted to be a little bit overly cautious with it,” said Maddon, whose shortstop could be facing a DL move if the shoulder still is barking at the end of the weekend.
But the team’s fielding slump doesn’t seem to have much to do with those players being out of the lineup.
“Just not giving that team extra outs is really important to us,” Maddon said. “We’ve lost some really close games recently, and you always can [point] to one or two plays in a close game. We’re just not seeing that level of defense that we’re accustomed to.
“But I’m totally confident we will [improve] because we’re young and not hurt.”
Notes: Kris Bryant was a last-minute scratch from the lineup Friday because of a stomach illness. … Jon Jay, who took Bryant’s lineup spot, left the game in the second inning because of back spasms. He’ll be evaluated again Saturday. …The team’s official Twitter account whined about the Sun-Times’ story on Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers’ flap with the team for “targeting” him and ejecting him from the park April 19 after he failed to produce the e-ticket he said he used to get into the game. “Anyone else you want us to let in without a ticket,” tweeted the team that once invited him to lead the seventh-inning stretch singing.