Chicago Cubs

Cubs core: Barney in the running for Gold Glove

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Cubs core: Barney in the running for Gold Glove

In Theo Epsteins mind, players can be divided into two categories: Those who are part of the core, and those who are not.

Its not always that neat or simple some are marked only by potential, others are contingent upon specific improvements to their game and some could ultimately be used as trading chips once the Cubs are in a win-now mode.

But this has been the big idea during the first year of the Epstein administration, and it will continue that way on the North Side in 2013.

The offseason officially began late Sunday night, when the San Francisco Giants looked like a potential dynasty by finishing off the Detroit Tigers and winning their second World Series in the past three years.

Shaping the nucleus of a team that could go on that kind of run is Epsteins No. 1 goal this winter. The Cubs president already thinks Darwin Barney could be one of those guys.

More validation could come Tuesday, when the Gold Glove winners are revealed at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. Rawlings announced Barney as a finalist on Monday, along with Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati Reds) and Aaron Hill (Arizona Diamondbacks) at second base, as voted by managers and coaches.

Phillips has won two consecutive Gold Gloves at the position as well as three in the past four years and wasnt shy saying this in late September: Everybody knows Im the best defensive second baseman.

While defensive metrics are imperfect, Barney (.997) has the edge over Phillips (.992) and Hill (.992) in fielding percentage. According to FanGraphs.com, Barney (13.1) also outperformed Phillips (8.1) and Hill (4.6) in terms of UZR.

Barney has already won a Fielding Bible Award, as an almost unanimous selection as the best defensive second baseman in the majors, from a panel that included Bill James, Doug Glanville and Peter Gammons. The Fielding Bible calculated that Barney led all second basemen with 28 runs saved, or 17 more than Phillips.

In the future, manager Dale Sveum thinks the Cubs could potentially have an infield anchored by three Gold Glove winners, as Barney develops more chemistry with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and they enter their prime.

The big hole remains at third base, where the Cubs still have not found a replacement for Aramis Ramirez. Certain segments of the fan base and the media even some inside the organization loved to rip Ramirez, who generated 27 homers and 105 RBI and emerged as a Gold Glove finalist during his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ramirez didnt go out of his way to be a leader, he had trouble staying on the field and he didnt earn extra hustle points. But he produced when he was healthy, and was perceptive when he turned to Barney one day during batting practice at Wrigley Field late in the 2010 season.

Rami was the guy (in 2010) who said: Look, you have an opportunity to play second base every day next year, Barney once recalled. It was something I never thought about and I kind of was questioning it. He said: Look, you can hit. You can play. And those kind of things people dont get to see.

Already a game-changer defensively, the Cubs expect Barney (.299 on-base percentage) to become more of what they like to call a two-way player. He will turn 27 next month and still has the leadership qualities that made him a glue guy on the Oregon State University teams that won back-to-back College World Series titles.

Now its just a sort of small continued progress offensively, Epstein said. If he gets on base a little bit more, when you look at what he does defensively and his intangibles, he can be a guy that we lean on, too.

Barney grabbed headlines by going 141 straight games without an error at second base, tying Placido Polanco for the major-league, single-season record and making the rest of the league pay attention.

Except for Phillips, who said he didnt know about the streak when a reporter mentioned it before the Reds clinched their division title: Oh, really, thats cool. Thats nice. Honestly, Ive been too busy winning.

With that, here are the National Leagues Gold Glove finalists:

Pitcher
Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds
Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Catcher
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

First base
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Second base
Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs
Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

Third base
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
David Wright, New York Mets

Shortstop
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies

Left field
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves

Center field
Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds

Right field
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

Cubs' fifth straight win includes player-to-player interviews, long bombs and El Mago spinning double plays

Cubs' fifth straight win includes player-to-player interviews, long bombs and El Mago spinning double plays

It's true for most teams, and certainly for the Cubs: Playing against the Reds is fun.

That was the case Wednesday night in their 9-3 victory, proving to be their fifth straight victory.

Here are some of the highlights from the W:

Jason Heyward had himself a night, going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles, 2 RBIs and a walk. This one below allowed the Cubs to take a 3-0 lead in the first inning.

The Cubs dominated throughout, but the night could have looked differently if the Reds were able to put something together in the third inning. With two on and All-Star Joey Votto at the dish, trouble was brewing. Luckily Javy Baez cares not for trouble, so he did this.

It helped Mike Montgomery throw six shutout innings, eventually earning a W for his efforts in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.

Kyle Schwarber then decided he wanted to get in on the fun, launching an opposite-field three-run homer to give the Cubs a touchdown lead.

Ian Happ is trying to put us reporters out of business by giving him a mock interview in the dugout after the dinger.

The Reds caught fire late with three solo homers in the ninth, but it was far too little too late.

Cubs win. Blouses.

Cubs' Ben Zobrist has travel issues just like us

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USA TODAY

Cubs' Ben Zobrist has travel issues just like us

Even World Series MVP's have travel headaches. 

Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist was a late scratch from Tuesday night's lineup because of a rental car mix-up in Nashville, according to ESPN's Jesse Rogers and WSCR's Mark Grote

So Ian Happ had to fill in. When the Cubs' glue guy finally did show up, though, he made his presence felt immediately by smacking a pinch-hit, two-run double to give the North Siders an 8-6 lead: 

Zobrist finished with three RBIs off the bench, but this story is truly great because of the Twitter reaction it inspired: 

[MORE: Anthony Rizzo, the greatest third baseman ever?] 

So think about that next time you're on the cusp of complaining about traffic, Metra or the CTA.