Streak helping Barney to close in on gold

CHICAGO -- As Darwin Barney’s Gold Glove campaign nears the home stretch, at least one person feels the award is his, even when taking into account that the challenger has to do so much more to knock off the defending champion.

Chicago Cubs infield coach Pat Listach, who also serves as the club’s third base coach, knew it was going to be tough for Barney to knock off two-time defending National League Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips so they dreamed up some scenarios on how it would happen.

Unfortunately, when the numbers were crunched early in the season, Listach admitted that Barney’s chances of winning a Gold Glove would be a herculean task at best.

Listach’s target for voting managers and coaches to properly take notice of Barney: 100 consecutive errorless games. The Cubs record for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman in one season? It was 90 by Ryne Sandberg in 1989, a streak that extended into the following season and ultimately reached 123 games.

So wouldn’t you know it, after Wednesday’s game at Milwaukee, Barney’s errorless streak had reached 108 games.

“I think in the past some guys win Gold Gloves based on their offensive numbers, which to a certain extent it means something because if you have the offensive numbers it means you play every day and you get a lot of chances,” Listach said. “But I always thought that in order for Darwin to take the Gold Glove away from Brandon it would be for him to run a streak out like he has. He needs to do something to get noticed like, ‘Hey, this guy hasn’t made an error in 100 games,’ and he’s done that.”

Barney doesn’t list personal numbers or awards among his season goals, save for perhaps one. He has always believed that by playing all-out defense and earning a Gold Glove, which means you are better at your position than anybody else, it would only benefit the team.

“That’s what we’re looking for here, and I know (shortstop) Starlin (Castro) has the same aspirations,” Barney said. “He’s always said his goal is to win a Gold Glove so that’s what we’re both shooting for. We’re both shooting to be the best middle infield that we can.”

If former manager Mike Quade has a lasting influence on the current club, it could be with Barney and his much-improved defense.

“We knew after last year that we needed to get better defensively,” Barney said. “We needed to clean it up and pick that part of our game up. Looking at our defensive numbers last year it was embarrassing.

“One of the things Quade said to me the last day of the year was, ‘I don’t care if you pick up a bat, I want you to work around the bag as much as you can and get better. Make those routine plays more routine than they already are.’ So that’s one of the things I did.”

The Beaverton, Ore., resident didn’t have ideal weather to work out in this winter, but he hunkered down anyway, heading off to his alma mater at Oregon State to work with his former coaches. Then it was defensive boot camp this spring with Listach and new manager Dale Sveum.

As a former shortstop, Barney had the ability to play at a high level at second base if he could make the necessary adjustments. His growth year has been far above what was expected, and it hasn’t just been the repetition of ground balls and work around the bag that has made the difference.

The Cubs’ aggressive positioning has put the infielders in better position to get to the most challenging ground balls, and Listach is the one who creates the scouting reports. He watches tons of video on each opponent, gathers data on every opponent's last 100 ground balls and adjusts the infielders accordingly, even if it leaves massive holes at traditional infield spots.

“He’s put the hours in, watched the video, and he stretched my range out by putting me in the right place where I can get to the hard ground balls and range to the softer hit ground balls,” Barney said. “I think he’s contributed a lot to what has been happening with our infield, and I hope it continues. He’s the kind of guy you like to have around. He catches on to your routine and he becomes a part of it and he pushes me to get better.”

In some ways, though, the new positioning could have made it harder for somebody to put together a long errorless streak because now they are expected to handle the hardest-hit grounders instead of watching them scoot by into the outfield.

The streak continues to grow, though, and even Listach marvels at it.

“When there is a tough play that he makes out there or gets an in-between hop or gets a bad hop, we always make eye contact,” Listach said. “‘That was a close one,’ you know? He knows how much I care about him doing well and playing the best defense he can possibly play.”

Listach has been around the block for a while, and he knows how the Gold Glove process works. It won’t be easy to take the award from Phillips. So would he consider it a crime if Barney didn’t win?

“I wouldn’t go that far to say that but I would say that if the season was over today I think he would deserve it,” Listach said. “Obviously Phillips has played an amazing second base as well, but I think it’s kind of like in boxing. When you’re up against the champion you have to knock him out. I think right now Darwin’s ahead on the scorecards.”