Getting defensive: Cubs trying to shift the odds in their favor

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Getting defensive: Cubs trying to shift the odds in their favor

CINCINNATI These plays wont make the highlight reel, and will never draw as much attention as Starlin Castro making an error.

You may not have noticed if youve been tuning into the Bulls, or listen to the noise about Castro changing positions. But watch enough of the Cubs and youll see balls that look like base hits, except a defender is already there.

This isnt a reason to print playoff tickets, and no one is saying this is a great defensive team. Front offices not to mention media types and casual fans have struggled to measure defense.

But these defensive shifts and calculated positioning offer insight into the type of organization team president Theo Epstein and manager Dale Sveum are trying to build.

Its a 90 percent rule, Sveum said Wednesday. If a guys going to hit a ball here 90 percent of the time, then why dont you play there?

Its like playing blackjack. You dont hit on 16. If you have a 10, you better hit on 10. Its the same factors sometimes. Youre just playing the odds. And if the odds are in your favor to do something, then you need to take advantage.

Scan the field during the second inning on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. Jay Bruce, a powerful left-handed hitter in the middle of the Cincinnati Reds lineup, steps to the plate.

Castro shifted to the other side of second base. First baseman Bryan LaHair moved close to the line. Second baseman Blake DeWitt played in between them. Third baseman Ian Stewart almost moved to short.

Everyones on the same page, second baseman Darwin Barney said. It gives us all something to work on together and develop a game plan. (Its) just feeling prepared. There were sometimes in the past where I felt like we were out-prepared. This year I dont feel like thats the case at all.

Sveum really got into the B.A.T.S. video system as the third-base coach with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2005. As a high school quarterback, he was good enough to turn down a scholarship offer to Arizona State University.

Sveum became a film rat at Fenway Park. As much as the Cubs wanted the Red Sox model, they also seem to be getting a version of Bill Belichicks New England Patriots.

Sveums detailed spray charts resonated with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer during the interview process. They looked at the game through similar lenses and made a significant investment in the teams video capabilities.

Even with better technology, the players still have to buy in. Carlos Zambranos ideas of where the infielders should be didnt always match up with the coaching staff, and Marlon Byrd could be a bit of a freelancer at times in center field.

The Cubs know that hitters want to drive the ball from left-center to right-center, a kind of V-formation, so they will pinch up the middle to try to take that away.

Before each series, third-base coach Pat Listach will watch the last 100 groundballs from each position player on the opposing team, because swings can change over the course of a season. That right there is a database of 1,300 at-bats.

Were trying to play the percentages, Listach said. The charts dont lie.

There are other variables, like breaking it down with two strikes and charting which balls were hit hard and which ones were not. Utility man Jeff Baker credited Listach and first-base coach Dave McKay, who works with the outfielders.

Theyre busting their tail and no one really sees that, Baker said. They kind of just stay down at the end of the dugout and position guys.

Its frustrating as a hitter when you square a ball up and you hit it into a shift, or someones playing you where they normally dont play you, and youre out. It can start to wear on you a little bit.

The second part is our pitchers have been executing their game plan to where were playing a shift on a guy and theyre still throwing it where they need to throw it. You can put a shift on somebody, a dead pull hitter, the pitcher pounds him away and it makes you kind of look like youre not on the same page.

I dont think people realize how much time our coaching staff puts into it. From the top to the bottom, (theyre) prepared.

That culture is what Sveum will be judged on during his first year on the job. The Cubs will keep trying to beat the casino.

Were doing a lot of homework, Barney said. Were trying to come out with a game plan (and) as many cards in our back pocket as we can.

James Shields beats former team in White Sox win against Rays

James Shields beats former team in White Sox win against Rays

James Shields’ tenure with the White Sox hasn’t gone well, but Monday was one of the bright spots. And it came against his former team.

Shields didn’t exactly keep the visiting Tampa Bay Rays off base, but he kept them mostly off the scoreboard, allowing just one run over his six innings of work as the White Sox won the first game of a four-game set, 7-1, at U.S. Cellular Field.

For just the third time since the beginning of August, Shields allowed two or fewer runs, and he did against Tampa Bay, with whom he spent the first seven seasons of his career.

Shields didn’t exactly make it easy on himself, putting multiple base runners on in four of his six innings, but just one run scored from all of those jams. He finished with a line of one run on seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts in six innings. The win was Shields’ first since July 26, his sixth of the season and only his fourth since joining the White Sox at the beginning of June.

But getting into jams wasn’t unique to Shields, with relievers Tommy Kahnle and Nate Jones starting the seventh and eighth innings by putting the first two runners on. But double plays in each of those frames helped the pitchers escape unscathed. The White Sox infield turned four double plays on the night.

As far as the offenses went, the White Sox struck first with a run in the first. Melky Cabrera doubled with one out and scored two batters later on Justin Morneau’s sacrifice fly.

The Rays tied the game in the fourth, Curt Casali singling home Jaff Decker to make it 1-1. But the White Sox struck back in the bottom of that same inning, with Omar Narvaez’s sacrifice fly plating Todd Frazier, who led off the inning with a double and stole third base, his team-leading 15th swipe of the season. The White Sox got another run an inning later when Jose Abreu singled in Leury Garcia.

But the real insurance came in the later innings, when Justin Morneau followed an Abreu walk in the seventh with a two-run home run to right field, boosting the White Sox lead to 5-1, and Carlos Sanchez bashed a two-run shot in the eighth to make it a 7-1 game.

The win was the White Sox third straight, their second set of three consecutive wins this month.

Bulls' Jimmy Butler wants tough coaching from Fred Hoiberg this season

Bulls' Jimmy Butler wants tough coaching from Fred Hoiberg this season

 

Much was made of the Jimmy Butler-Fred Hoiberg dynamic last year.

As the duo head into Year 2 together with a very different Bulls roster, Jimmy Butler was very clear about one thing he wants out of his coach this season.

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example,’” Butler said during the team’s media day on Monday. “I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing because if Doug (McDermott) or Tony (Snell) or whoever it may be, if watching coach talk to me like that he’s going to be like ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ So that’s what I try to remind him everyday. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else, but I want that. I need that.”

Butler’s show of confidence in his coach didn’t stop at his belief that Hoiberg could follow through on Butler’s desire to be coached hard. The All-Star believes Hoiberg has improved as a coach heading into his second year on the job.

“It was his first year last year and I think he studied himself and us and the way we were up and down in so many areas of the game last year,” Butler said. “He’s trying to correct it. That’s just like anybody going into the offseason. He didn’t just not work. He studied and got better at what he needed to get better at. I think he’s ready moving forward.”