Most of the errors last night were not caused by bad hops or losing balls in the lights. These were errors caused by desperation and frustration.
"Defense wins games," so the saying goes. No MLB team understands these words of advice more than the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs surrendered 7 runs on 4 errors last night. Here are all of the errors in one reel thanks to MLB.com
Just look at the first and last errors of the game. In the first situation, Pena missed a rather easy ground ball by Volquez, allowing Phillips to score. Barney then nearly saved the situation by going deep into the 3-4 hole to keep the ball from reaching the outfield. This is where the mental errors began. Instead of eating the ball and stopping the bleeding at one run, Barney made a throw from his knees to first, a throw that had no chance of getting Volquez. Rolen tried to take advantage of the unnecessary throw which prompted Garza then fire the ball home in attempt to save another run. After the ball hit the Cub's dugout camera, Hernandez was awarded home and the Cubs had turned a routine ground ball into 3 runs for the Reds.
In an alternate universe, the Cubs made themselves look really smart by either:
1. Barney holds the ball in the shallow outfield and keeps Rolen at third. The Cubs give up one run but salvage the force at every base.
2. Garza fakes the throw home and then possibly tags out Volquez when he wanders toward second.
In the last error of the game, Wood made a mental error by attempting an ridiculous throw to third. Ramirez did not help by stretching for the throw long before it was made, preventing him from setting up to keep the ball in the infield. Tony Campana was then no where to be found on the back up. His first move should have been to back up third base. The poor positioning allowed a bunt to the pitcher to end up in the left field corner and allowed the Reds to tie the game.
Here is the real problem with the Cubs: These are little league or high school mental mistakes. This is what happens when discipline breaks down on a team. It is not the job of Darwin Barney, nor Matt Garza, to make highlight reels with their amazing plays. Young players need to show that they can develop a maturity for the game. They need to assure the club and its fans that they won't make a critical mental error in an important situation down the road. I could hear Darwin Barney's Oregan State coaches screaming at him from thousands of miles away last night. Understanding when you're beat and how to salvage a play is something that takes time but should definitely be understood by a former college national champion. I can excuse some mental errors by Starlin Castro, but Barney has been working with some of the finest coaches in baseball for a very long time.
Furthermore, it is exactly the job of veterans like Kerry Wood and Aramis Ramirez to make fundamental plays every time. It is their job to lead by example and do what the situation demands, not what the 24 year old version of themselves believes he could do. Bunts to the pitcher are the type of plays that amateur teams up through big leaguers practice, or should practice, hundreds of times per season. This is done so that everyone on the field knows their job and understands that your emotions will betray you in the heat of the moment.
Maybe the Cubs could take a cue from a team legend. Ryne Sandberg wasn't one of the best defensive second basemen to ever play the game because he made highlight reel plays. He actually had slightly limited range but a natural feel for what he could reach and always knew what to do when he got to the ball. I'm starting to wonder if this is the lesson the Cubs could have learned if the team had tapped Sandberg to manage during these awkward years.
Here's a boring section of this post in which I talk a lot about stats. If you want to see statistically where the Cubs rank compared to other teams, we can demonstrate it with traditional stats or more modern metrics.
According to traditional stats, the Cubs are among the league's worst defenders:
Fielding %: .980 (3rd to last)
Defensive Efficiency (balls in play converted to outs) - .674 (2nd to last)
Double Plays - 62 (last)
This has translated to a .314 on balls batted in play average for the Cubs' opponents, ranking the Cubs 2nd to last in this stat.
SABRmetricians would be quick to point out that these stats only account for balls the Cubs reach. Unfortunately, using "advanced" stats doesn't paint a much prettier picture for the Cubs. The Cubs rank in the bottom third of all teams in UZR, at -6.7(UZR estimates each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position). Baseball Reference lists the Cubs in the bottom half of the majors in Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, a different metric for measuring defensive contribution with a similar diagnosis for the Cubs.
The Cubs' pitchers aren't helping themselves by walking more batters per game than any team in baseball.
I unfairly tagged Reed Johnson in the first version of the post. I was so enraged by the play, I guess I just picked out the first player I could think of.