Commentary: Cubs defense needs to get back to being elite
David Banks - USA Today Sports

Commentary: Cubs defense needs to get back to being elite

by - Staff Writer -

When the Cubs tore down the original core and began rebuilding their roster and farm system from scratch, they focused on creating a team that played a different brand of baseball. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, and others were heavy strikeout hitters, and when the power numbers dissipated from the once-All-Stars, the strikeouts were too hard to overcome.

The Cubs made difficult decisions to part with players like Schwarber, Bryant, Baez, and Contreras and players like Nicholas Castellanos and Anthony Rizzo and begin a rebuild. When the Cubs won in 2016, they won many games by outscoring their opponents. However, some of their downfalls included not developing enough homegrown pitching and failing to move on from their aging hitters, who struggled to take the next step.

Once Theo Epstein departed and Jed Hoyer took over, it was clear Hoyer’s plan when reconstructing the roster would consist of emphasizing the Cubs’ shortcomings last time around. This era of Cubs baseball prioritized homegrown pitching, which was shown when the Cubs hired Carter Hawkins as general manager and revamped their scouting departments. It’s early in the era of contention, but I’d call it fair to say it’s paid off. The likes of Justin Steele, Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad, Adbert Alzolay and others prove it.

On the offensive and defensive sides of things, the Cubs also changed their approach to roster construction. The Cubs have acquired pieces built around contact approaches at the plate and sound defense in the field. Ball players like Ian Happ, Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Yan Gomes, Cody Bellinger, Mike Tauchman, Eric Hosmer, and Nick Madrigal emphasize that point.

Part of the reason the Cubs decided not to bring back Willson Contreras was because of the Cubs’ changing philosophy. They’ve become a team better constructed to prevent runs than score them, which can be a successful strategy— especially when you get production from the offense.

Currently, the Cubs are in a bit of an offensive slump, which makes sense considering Sieya Suzuki and Cody Bellinger are on the injured list, and Swanson, Happ, and Christopher Morel are struggling mightily at the plate.

However, defense is always supposed to be counted on—and the Cubs have been a below-average team defensively.

That. Can. Not. Continue.

As injured as it is, this team is not good enough offensively to bail out a team giving away runs with poor defense. Tuesday’s 4-2 loss is a perfect example. All four runs the Cubs allowed were unearned, including a three-run homer off of Adbert Alzolay after a Dansby Swanson throwing error extended the inning.

Christopher Morel is making strides at third base but has been mostly OK defensively. The Cubs’ play at first base has been subpar, mainly because players like Michael Busch and Patrick Wisdom are learning the position. The Cubs' stout up-the-middle defense between Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner has already combined for eight errors; the two gold glovers combined for 20 in all of last season.

The Cubs currently have one of the bottom five defenses in MLB when they were expected to have one of, if not the top defenses. That, mixed with a surplus of injuries, has made some matchups feel like uphill climbs.

The fact is that the Cubs’ defense should help the Cubs keep runs off the board, not gift the other team more runs.

For the Cubs to go as far as they have the potential to in 2024, that NEEDS to change.

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