Defense key if Cubs hope to improve

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs were the worst defensive team in baseball the last two seasons, which gives you a pretty good idea why they had consecutive fifth-place finishes.

New Cubs manager Dale Sveum is convinced that his team will defend better this season.

“Nobody has a crystal ball to tell what is going to happen in a 162-game schedule,” Sveum said. “Just the implementation of positioning is going to help defensively. Is it going to cut down on errors? Who knows. But I think the work ethic will help.”

Looking at each position, there are some pluses and minuses from last season.

First and foremost, shortstop Starlin Castro will be better this season. Sveum and his staff have helped the third-year major leaguer shorten his stride and release point on balls hit directly at him. Castro and Darwin Barney will be entering their second season together, which should help cut down on coverage and relay gaffes. Barney had never played second base until last spring, so the career shortstop will automatically be more sound at the position. Both players need to help the catcher out on throws to second base as Geovany Soto had 13 throwing errors in 2011, the majority of which should have been at least knocked down by one of the infielders.

Third base will be better defensively with a more athletic player, Ian Stewart, replacing Aramis Ramirez. First base may be an adventure with Bryan LaHair trying to replace one of the better first baseman in Carlos Pena. The outfield should be OK, but not Gold-Glove caliber with a quicker Marlon Byrd and a solid David DeJesus to go with Alfonso Soriano's below-average range and throwing.

“We are going to be better [on defense], there is no doubt about it,” Sveum said. “The outfield play will be better. A lot of things have been implemented that are paying off in the long run.”

Better may be a relative term when you are trying to cut down from a major-league high 134 errors from the previous season.