Improved defense just a stepping stone

CHICAGO -- Despite the Chicago Cubs showing much improvement on defense, manager Dale Sveum doesn’t feel this is the final product and will continue to emphasize glove work the remainder of this season and on into spring training.

While the Cubs have struggled on the field and are pointed directly at the franchise record of 103 loses, it doesn’t mean all has been in decline on the North Side.

At the start of play Monday, the Cubs held a .983 fielding percentage -- tied for seventh in the National League. Their 80 errors were tied for sixth least in the NL.

While a middle-of-the pack fielding percentage might not seem like much, it was only last season when the Cubs had an NL-worst .978 fielding percentage with 128 errors. Their 128 double plays were better than just two teams as the Mets and Marlins had 126.

“Once the guys started buying into it I think everything started to get a little better,” Sveum said. “Sometimes those things aren't bought into overnight, it's more harping on. I think players understand the positioning but also the importance of the preparation that goes into turning those double plays and keeping pitchers' pitch counts down.”

That last part might be at the crux of the defensive turnaround as much as anything. Sveum has made it a point to emphasize that fielding miscues don’t just affect the defender adversely.

“I think players start taking that a little more personally and start understanding that an error is not just my 10th error of the season,” Sveum said. “That thing cost (Jeff) Samardzija 24 extra pitches and when you put it to them that way I think things turn around a little bit and they understand now that the game is played because the starting pitcher's pitch count for the most part.”

Pacing the turnaround has been defense up the middle, not only from Gold Glove candidate Darwin Barney at second base, but a much improved Starlin Castro at shortstop and solid play in center field from both David DeJesus and now Brett Jackson.

“You've still got to remember Castro is 22 and Barney is just still figuring out second base but obviously he's figured it out pretty well,” Sveum said. “It comes with center field as well. I think we've gotten pretty good defense out of our combination of all our center fielders.”

But make no mistake about it, Sveum considers this more of a transition season to the even better defense he is expecting in the future.

“There are a lot of plays that come up that we learn from our mistakes and it’s not only booting a ball or throwing a ball away,” Sveum said. “It might even be positioning or footwork around the bag when a pitcher throws a ball to second base on a double play or a catcher throws the ball to second base on a double play.

“All these things come into play, but there are things that accumulate over a season that hopefully the next season is where you start to make strides that those mistakes aren’t made anymore.”