September 2012

9/29 Cubs lineup

One day after his error-less streak ended, Darwin Barney was not in the Cubs starting lineup Saturday for Game 2 against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus RF

Valbuena 2B

Rizzo 1B

Soriano LF

Castro SS

Castillo C

Jackson CF

Vitters 3B

Germano P

— Carrie Muskat

9/29 Extra bases

* Darwin Barney’s bid for a Major League record fell short on Friday. But he does own all NL records for consecutive error-less games at second base, having surpassed Ryne Sandberg’s former record 123-game error-less streak, allowing for multiple seasons, that ran from June 21, 1989-May 17, 1990. David Eckstein owned the previous NL single-season mark of 113-consecutive games set with San Diego in 2010. Barney’s 141-game errorless streak at second base spanned 1,154 1/3 innings since his only other miscue this year at second base, April 17 in Miami.

Barney’s 141-game errorless streak, which lasted from April 18-Sept. 27, featured more total chances per nine innings (5.30) than any other second baseman in baseball. During the 141 games, Barney had far more putouts (293) than any other second baseman in baseball in that span (Gordon Beckham was next closest at 259) and Barney’s 676 total chances trailed only Arizona’s Aaron Hill (687).

* Alfonso Soriano has a career high 106 RBIs at the age of 36 with the Cubs. With his next RBIs, he will become the first player in franchise history to reach 107 RBIs at the age of 36 or older. Ernie Banks had 106 RBIs at the age of 38 in 1969 and Moises Alou had 106 RBIs at the age of 37 in 2004.

* The Cubs have lost 98 games. The last time they lost more was in 1966 (club-record 103 losses).

* They also are 0-17 on the road against the National League West: San Francisco (0-4), Arizona (0-4), Los Angeles (0-3), San Diego (0-3) and Colorado (0-3).

“Our road record has been pretty awful,” Dale Sveum said. “Not very good teams, that’s usually what happens. You don’t want to lose this many games. … You wish you had the magic potion for that one. Even great teams struggle on the road. You don’t want to struggle this bad. That’s one thing going into next year, you have to get better at.”

The Cubs are 15th in the National League in road batting average (.235), 14th in on-base percentage (.291), 15th in slugging percentage (.368), 15th in runs scored (259), and 10th in home runs (70).

— Carrie Muskat

9/28 Barney & Rizzo

Nobody felt worse for Darwin Barney than Anthony Rizzo. In the eighth inning Friday, Barney tried to make an off-balance throw to Rizzo to get Justin Upton but the ball hit the dirt and bounced past Rizzo. Upton was credited with a hit but there was a runner at second and he scored on an error. It was Barney’s first miscue in 141 games, and instead of setting a Major League record, he finishes tied with Placido Polanco for most error-free games in a single season.

“That’s probably the sickest feeling that I think I’ve had in the game besides a couple playoff losses when you know you’re going home,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “It’s wow, you can’t believe it. Some things you can’t understand in this world and in life, period. That one is unbelievable to happen in the [eighth] inning and a play like that. It wasn’t even an error — it was an error because a guy advanced on a base hit that got away from the first baseman.”

Said Rizzo: “It’s one of those things, I think I should have had.”

Said Barney: “I knew immediately that it was an error. Honestly, there were no real thoughts at that particular moment going through my mind.”

Did Barney consider holding onto the ball?

“No, I’ve got to make that play,” Barney said. “It was 5-3 at the time. We’re in that ballgame. My job is to make plays regardless of taking risk and I think I’ve done that through this whole little run. That’s just how you play the game. You can’t hold that ball right there.”

Rizzo stood beside Barney as he met with the media post game. The two had been sequestered in a corner of the clubhouse with a few other teammates, commiserating.

“First off, what he’s done is incredible,” Rizzo said of Barney. “That play up the middle — incredible play, fearless, which he’s done all year. That’s the type of player Barney is. That’s why everyone was so upset. For me, it could turn into a positive. Everyone’s closer. I feel a lot of emotion right now.”

Actually, Rizzo felt ill after the play happened and the “E” flashed on the scoreboard.

“Rizzo wanted to throw up,” Barney said. “Both of us were talking about how we didn’t want another ball [hit to them].”

— Carrie Muskat

9/28 Barney’s streak ends

Darwin Barney’s streak is over.

On Friday, Barney had a chance to break the Major League record of error-free games if he did not make a miscue. But in the eighth inning, he fielded Justin Upton’s grounder and tried to make an off-balance throw to first. The throw was off the mark, and Barney was charged with an error, his first since April 17.

Barney’s single-season streak ends at 141 games, equaling the Major League mark set by Polanco in 2007 for the Tigers.

“One other person at this point has put together a defensive year like he has,” Dale Sveum said. “I’ve been in the game 30 years, and I’ve never seen anyone play second base like [Barney] has. I was very fortunate to be around who I consider the best I’d ever seen at that position in Jimmy Gantner in Milwaukee. He was another guy who was under the radar because of his offense.

“I think Barney is better than that,” Sveum said. “He puts everything into the package, going for pop ups down the right field line, double plays, the range — he has so many different things in his tool box. It’s not just a guy catching the ball, routine balls. He’s been spectacular all season.”

Barney is rewriting the National League record each game as he surpassed the old mark of 123 games, held by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who was Barney’s former Minor League manager.

— Carrie Muskat

9/28 Cubs lineup

The Cubs open their final road trip of the season on Friday against the Diamondbacks, and need four wins in the final six games to avoid a 100-loss season. They are 0-16 on the road against NL West teams, with three to go. Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus CF

Sappelt RF

Rizzo 1B

Soriano LF

Castro SS

Valbuena 3B

Castillo C

Barney 2B

T. Wood P

— Carrie Muskat

9/27 Road rage

The Cubs now are 0-16 on the road against the National League West. According to STATS Inc., no team has ever finished a season winless against one division on the road. The Cubs have three games remaining against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Worst Road Record vs. Division since 1969
2012 Chicago Cubs vs. NL West: 0-16
2002 Milwaukee Brewers vs. NL East: 1-14
2005 Kansas City Royals vs. AL East: 2-17
2004 Arizona Diamondbacks vs. NL West: 4-33

9/27 Imagine 30 HR, 100 RBIs from Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo now has played 82 games since he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa on June 26. That’s slightly more than half a season, and if you project his numbers over a full 162-game schedule, they’re pretty impressive. Rizzo hit his 15th home run on Thursday in the Cubs’ 7-5 loss to the Rockies, and has 47 RBIs. Double that, and the Cubs could have a 30-homer, 100-RBI hitter in the lineup.

“That’s pretty impressive at 22 years old,” Dale Sveum said.

Rizzo nearly paid a price for his home run. He connected in the third, but in the fifth, the second pitch from the Rockies’ Jhoulys Chacin sailed behind Rizzo.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Rizzo said. “I did a pretty good job to get out of the way. The first pitch was a changeup and the second was behind my back. I shook it off and went from there.”

The Cubs eventually loaded the bases in the fifth, and Rizzo tried to score on Luis Valbuena’s grounder. He slid hard, and was closer to the catcher than home plate. Was it payback time?

“No, I think it was just [Chacin] bobbled it, and I didn’t want to get that double play,” Rizzo said. “I slide hard all the time trying to break something up. I guess that’s just coincidence.”

He hasn’t projected his numbers.

“Ask me that in a couple days when the season is done and I’ll sit back and reflect,” Rizzo said. “I just have to keep working hard and keep going.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/27 Barney ties ML record

Darwin Barney tucked another souvenir ball into his gear bag on Thursday. The Cubs second baseman is hoping for at least one more. Barney played in his 141st consecutive error-less game to tie a single-season Major League record by a second baseman, set in 2007 by the Tigers’ Placido Polanco. Barney is rewriting the National League mark each game as he surpassed the old record of 123 games, held by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who was Barney’s former Minor League manager. Barney saved a ball from his 124th game, and now has one from Thursday’s contest.

“They’re good mementos, and a sign of the hard work we’ve done on the defensive side,” Barney said.

He leads all NL second basemen in fielding percentage and has made one error this season. His error-less streak is now 1,147 1/3 innings. His streak survived rainy weather in the first two games of the Cubs’ series against the Rockies, and on Thursday, he turned a nifty double play in the second without fear.

“None of that is on my mind until it happens I guess,” Barney said of the streak. “With [first baseman Anthony] Rizzo over there, you feel comfortable making throws no matter what. It’s not really on my mind.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/27 Extra bases

As of Thursday, Starlin Castro has played in all 156 of the Cubs games this season. Manager Dale Sveum doesn’t plan on giving his shortstop a day off.

“That’s what you want,” Sveum said of Castro’s durability. “When you get to a point and you have young players capable of doing it health wise, you want them to play every day.”

Castro has set career highs with 12 triples and 25 stolen bases, and is the only player in the Major Leagues with at least 10 home runs, 10 triples, 25 stolen bases and 75 RBIs. He’s the first player to do so in the National League since Jimmy Rollins in 2007. Since Castro’s debut in May 2010, he leads all NL players in hits.

But Sveum wants Castro to get better, especially on his defense. Among the things he’d like the shortstop to work on is to not rely on his arm so much. Sveum likes to call such infielders “grass huggers” because they don’t want to leave the grass, their arms are so strong.

* In his 30 years in the game, Sveum had not seen a baserunner get thrown out at third trying to advance on a sacrifice fly to left, but the Cubs have made the gaffe twice in two weeks. Joe Mather did so Wednesday.

“If you brought it up in a group session, there would be a lot of eyes rolled, but unfortunately, it’s been a reality the last couple weeks,” Sveum said. “It’s almost a learning tool — it’s like, all right, don’t be rolling your eyes, this actually happened the last two weeks.”

* Travis Wood will open the Cubs series on Friday at Arizona, and said he’s ignoring his record, and focusing on what he’s learned this season.

“Forget the numbers,” said Wood, who is 6-12 with a 4.23 ERA. “The experience is the key part. Everybody tries to finish strong, and you want to take that into the offseason and get ready for the next season.”

— Carrie Muskat 

9/27 Watkins, Struck honored

Infielder Logan Watkins and right-handed pitcher Nick Struck were named the Cubs’ Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. The two will be honored Monday at Wrigley Field. Watkins, 23, hit .281 with 93 runs scored, 20 doubles, 11 triples, nine home runs and 52 RBIs in 133 games for Double-A Tennessee. He led the Southern League in runs scored, was second in triples and walks (76) and was fourth in on-base percentage (.383). Originally selected in the 21st round of the 2008 Draft, Watkins owns a .285 batting average in 475 career Minor League games.

Struck, 22, went 14-10 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) for Tennessee. He led the Southern League in victories, ranked third with 155 2/3 innings pitched and fourth in ERA. He led the club with 123 strikeouts, walked 44, and limited opposing hitters to a .238 batting average. From May 29 through the end of the season, Struck went 10-5 with a 2.29 ERA in 18 games (16 starts). All told, Struck allowed three or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 26 starts while he issued two or fewer walks in 21 starts. Chicago’s 39th round selection in the 2009 Draft, Struck is 32-27 with a 3.50 ERA in 84 career Minor League games, including 73 starts. He has struck out 330 batters while walking 134, and has surrendered 28 home runs in 431 2/3 innings pitched.

— Carrie Muskat