CHICAGO -- The Cubs entered the season believing they had a strong group of position players. So far, that group has not only collectively disappointed with the bat, but they haven't been any better in the field. That begs the question: If you're not hitting or fielding, what else is there?
"When you're not scoring runs, what's your best offense? A good defense," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. "That's it. We haven't [play well defensively]. That's one area where, if you want to win consistently, we've got to improve.
"[Defense] has a direct bearing on how many runs the other teams scores and how hard you make it for your pitchers. It needs to get a whole lot better, and relatively quick."
Entering Saturday's game, the Cubs ranked 15th in the National League in fielding percentage, just ahead of Arizona. However, it's not just the routine plays on which the Cubs have fallen short. Chicago ranks 13th in the NL in defensive efficiency, a stats which measures the percentage of balls in play a team converts into outs -- an excellent measure of a team's range.
"We've made some silly errors, some errors you wouldn't expect," said Piniella. "We've got to get more consistent. I'm confident we will."
A positive sign on the defensive front is the play the last two games from rookie shortstop Starlin Castro, who was promoted from the Minors to increase the range at the most important defensive position on the field. Castro struggled with routine plays in his first few games, committing five errors in his first five games, but has looked smooth and, more importantly, reliable in his last two outings.
Castro committed three errors in Monday's game against Florida and in doing so, he became the first Cubs shortstop since Shawon Dunston in 1985 to pull off the undesirable hat trick. He followed that up with another error on Tuesday, and nearly had another when an infield chopper he was unable to come up with was changed from an error to an infield single. Then, on Wednesday, he missed a grounder to his left off the bat of Florida's Chris Coghlan, the first hitter of the game. However, Castro started a double play on the next hitter, Gaby Sanchez, then ranged far to his right to run down a soft liner from Hanley Ramirez. The play may have been a spark for Castro because, since then, he's been flawless.
"This kid, we just have to be patient with him and let him play," said Piniella. "He's going to be just fine.