CHICAGO -- The suddenly clutch offense and the improved bullpen are new arrivals, but a solid defense has been there all along this season for the Cubs.
Manager Dale Sveum made it one of his objectives this spring and the Cubs have responded. Even Alfonso Soriano has stepped up his defensive game working with new outfield coach Dave McKay.
What also hasn’t hurt is all the video work infield coach Pat Listach has done, creating pronounced defensive shifts to better cover areas where players hit balls the most.
"It's the preparation and the buying into some of the positioning, turning the double plays, pivoting around the bag, understand how important that is,” Sveum said. “But it’s the preparation more than anything, buying into the positioning. All the infielders as well as the pitchers have been like, ‘Wow, this really makes a big difference when you put people in the right spot.’”
And the defense is only getting better. The Cubs’ .993 fielding percentage in the 12 games before Saturday was best in the National League since June 27 and second best in baseball to the Seattle Mariners' .998 mark. Perhaps it's no coincidence that new first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been around for all 12 of those games.
Counting Saturday, the Cubs have also turned at least one double play in nine consecutive games, their longest such streak since 1994.
“It’s the preparation [Darwin] Barney and [Starlin] Castro have put into their double play combination and obviously the addition of Rizzo at first base,” Sveum said. “He's one of those calm guys at first base that people take for granted at that position.”