Cubs gaining confidence with each series win
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Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney has continued to play Gold Glove defense, and he also has been able to pick up his offense of late.
As long and as grinding as baseball seasons are, they go by pretty quickly. Believe it or not, the Cubs have reached the quarter pole of the 2013 season.
They scored a small moral victory Wednesday night, moving percentage points out of last place and improving to 17-23.
Cubs scouting report
Cubs vs. New York Mets at Wrigley Field
TV: WGN Friday and Sunday; Comcast SportsNet Saturday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Edwin Jackson (1-5) vs. Matt Harvey (4-0) Friday at 1:20 p.m.; Scott Feldman (3-3) vs. Jeremy Hefner (0-4) Saturday at 12:05 p.m.; Travis Wood (4-2) vs. Dillon Gee (2-5) Sunday at 1:20 p.m.
At a glance: The Cubs were 4-2 against the Mets last year, 2-1 at each ballpark. The interesting matchup of the weekend is Friday, when the struggling Jackson takes on the dominant Harvey. The Mets' top pick from 2010 has an ERA of 1.44 and a WHIP of 0.73. He has 62 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 561⁄3 innings. The Mets are struggling in the NL East. They're 13th in on-base percentage and 12th in slugging, while the Cubs are 11th in OBP but third in slugging. New York is last in the league in ERA (4.56), while the Cubs are seventh (3.72). Entering Thursday, John Buck led the Mets with 10 homers and 30 RBI, while David Wright had a hitting line of .295/.410/.504.
Next: Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, Tuesday-Thursday
— Bruce Miles
A year ago after 40 games, the Cubs were 15-25, having fallen 10 games under .500 for the first time in the season on the way to a 61-101 finish.
We won't kid ourselves into thinking this year's version is a world beater by any means, but there do seem to be some better signs at this point. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Attitude, energy and confidence:
The Cubs' clubhouse never was an unpleasant place to be last year, even with the losing. But there never seemed to be the self-confidence this bunch possesses.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who came up from the minor leagues late last June, said he notices the difference.
"A little bit," he said. "It's a different feeling in here because we're very confident right now. Even when we were losing, we were still confident because we were so close to winning those games and flipping it around.
"No one is going to get ahead of themselves here. We're playing good ball, and we just want to keep playing. Everyone does. Come to the park and work hard and let it take care of itself."
The Cubs have won two straight series against teams with winning records, Washington and Colorado. That can build a little confidence.
"You can't win them all," pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "You're playing against good teams. You want to just approach it series to series.
"Every series you win changes that win-loss column and gets momentum going. Series wins help out in the clubhouse, and you realize you can hang your hat on something.
"Anytime you can come back and get a win in that day game like we did in Washington, those are huge. Those are confidence builders. This game is a lot about confidence and a lot about how you feel out there on the field."
Rizzo from the start:
Speaking of Rizzo, the Cubs have had his bat in the lineup from the get-go. Although he struggled to start the season, he has come on lately.
He is batting .392 (29-for-74) with 9 doubles, 3 homers, 15 RBI and a 1.086 OPS in his last 19 games dating to April 26. He has struck out just eight times in that stretch. Before that, he batted .173 (14-for-81) in his first 21 games to start the season, with 26 strikeouts.
What's been the difference?
"Maybe the contract, I don't know," he said with a laugh, referring to the $41 million extension he just signed. "I just try to keep it as simple as possible. I was trying to do way too much.
"I talked with the coaches, (hitting coach James) Rowson. We turned it back a couple notches, a couple steps. It started paying off. It's being really simple and not trying to do too much. That's what I always say and live by."
Going into last year, there were some who felt second baseman Darwin Barney wasn't an everyday player, much less the Gold Glove winner he turned out to be.
After starting the season on the disabled list Barney is back, and he's back to his old tricks on defense. He made one Gold Glove-caliber play Wednesday, going up the middle to backhand the ball and rob Carlos Gonzalez of a hit.
The infield defense seems to have settled down with Barney acting as captain. After a miserable start at the plate, he's up to .191/.301/.348. Against the Rockies, he had a pair of doubles and a homer.
"The one thing you do with Barney on defense is you don't worry about it," manager Dale Sveum said. "He's either going to make a great play, and he never messes up any routine plays or the pivot around second base."
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