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updated: 8/28/2011 7:53 PM

Cubs find speed is fine, but getting on base is better

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  • Tony Campana will have a future in the majors, Cubs manager Mike Quade believes, if he can get stronger and drive the ball so the outfielders have to respect his swing.

    Tony Campana will have a future in the majors, Cubs manager Mike Quade believes, if he can get stronger and drive the ball so the outfielders have to respect his swing.
    Associated Press


MILWAUKEE -- Yes, the Cubs have a little speed on their team this season.

They will tell you that Tony Campana and Starlin Castro are tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 17 each, marking the first time the Cubs have had two players with at least that many since Ryan Theriot had 22 and Alfonso Soriano (yes, really) had 19 in 2008.

They'll also tell you that Campana has been caught stealing just once and that his 94.4 percent success rate is the best in the major leagues among players with at least 15 stolen-base attempts.

That's all well and good. Speed is fine. But when the Cubs really need is for that speed to get on base.

They didn't do much of anything Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The loss was the Cubs' fourth in a row, their seventh in eight games and ninth in 12, dropping their record to 57-77.

The Cubs have three young players who can play the so-called small-ball game: Campana, Castro and Darwin Barney.

Each possesses some degree of speed, with Campana perhaps being the fastest player in the National League.

But each player has on-base issues as well.

Barney has a .321 on-base percentage and ranks sixth worst among qualifiers in walk percentage (3.8).

Castro has an OBP of .333 and is eighth worst in walk percentage (4.0).

Realistically, Campana is a fifth-outfielder/pinch-runner type. His OBP is .305, and if he hits the ball in the air, he is almost always out.

"He hit the ball in the air last night in an early-count swing," said manager Mike Quade, referring to a flyout Saturday night. "That's the other thing. Part of getting walks is guys not being comfortable going right after you.

"They know Campy's going to slap it around so, 'Let's go get him.' I think the huge things for Campy down the road is to get stronger. Don't touch his legs.

"But if he can get stronger and can drive the ball a little bit more it's a tough thing for him the way they're going to defense him.

"As great as his speed is, if he can get the outfield to have to respect his swing, that's going to be huge, too."

For all the talk of the Cubs needing to play small-ball because of the wind blowing in at Wrigley Field early and late in the season, the reality is that successful Cubs teams have had on-base guys at the top of the order and sluggers in the middle to drive them in.

"From Castro's standpoint, developing as a hitter has been the primary thing, and it's been pretty darn good," Quade said. "Can that (speed) become a weapon for him? Sure.

"Barney, we've played some hit-and-run. We've bunted a few times. I think that somewhat appeals.

"Neither one of those guys is going to get the speed respect that Campy gets. You're going to see half-distance infields. You're going to see very shallow outfields.

"The good news is, as Campy gets stronger and he can drive the ball a little bit and he beats those defenses in the outfield, he's going to beat them for three bases."

As far as Barney goes, he is more of a contact hitter who has long at-bats primarily because he battles pitchers and fouls off a lot of balls.

"I said, 'If you ask me right now how good you're going to be, what your career is going to be about,' I told him it's going to be, 'Do you have the ability to lay off the high fastball?' Period," Quade said.

"His swing is good enough. If he can add that discipline on a regular basis, between favorable counts and walking, he's such a good, lowball-hitting guy that he gets himself in trouble when it's up.

"He'll work counts to 2-2, 3-2, he is not going to strike out, and he is going to fight like a son of a gun with two strikes to put a ball in play.

"As he plays more, I think he'll get more comfortable in a two-strike situation where he will take some pitches to walk on a 3-2 pitch. He is not striking out, and to that end, he sometimes goes out of the zone in late-count situations."

We're talking young players here, so this process is going to take awhile.

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