Cubs unable to overcome late defensive lapses

Cubs unable to overcome late defensive lapses

Cubs unable to overcome late defensive lapses
CHICAGO -- At Wrigley Field, fans throw back an opposing teams' home run balls. Yet the guy who nabbed David Ortiz's homer in the bleachers ignored that, and pocketed the souvenir. That's how bad things are going.

"If I was a Red Sox fan, I probably wouldn't throw it back either," Chicago's Reed Johnson said. "I'm sure all the heckling he was getting made it worth it that he had a ball when he went home that night."

It wasn't the only thing that marred Sunday's 7-4 Chicago loss to Boston. Wrigley Field's outfield grass looked terrible one week after two concerts, and no camera angle could hide the scars. That, however, can be fixed with new sod, which is coming this week.

The Cubs' miscues aren't as easily corrected.

"The thing that's going on all year long is we get into close ballgames and something breaks down," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We can't score if it's close or we just can't make a pitch when it's close to hold them or shut them down to get the game into extra innings. We've got to be better at those things -- somebody stepping up and getting a big hit when it counts, not when we're four or five runs down."

Ortiz hit a solo home run and an RBI single and the Red Sox scored three runs in a sloppy seventh to take the series from the Cubs, who have dropped 24 of their last 31 games.

It doesn't seem to matter if it's Jon Lester or Franklin Morales, the Cubs are befuddled by left-handed starters.

"You can't even try to do what we do against left-handed pitching," Sveum said. "It's very difficult to have those kind of numbers and slugging percentage and everything like that against left-handed pitching on a consistent basis."

The Cubs rank last in the National League with a .320 slugging percentage against lefties, and have hit eight home runs off southpaws.

"They're giving us trouble -- spot starters, Lester, guys like that, they're giving us fits this year," Johnson said. "We need to figure out a way to string something together against those guys."

The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first, but the Cubs tied the game as Starlin Castro hit an RBI triple in the first and an RBI double in the third that Dustin Pedroia dropped in shallow right field.

Castro was the only bright spot. He missed the cycle by a home run, adding an infield single in the sixth. He also made a fielding error in the eighth, one of two miscues by the Cubs in the game. It wasn't just Chicago either as Boston also was charged with two errors.

"The guy can swing the bat and he's played really good defense," Sveum said of the young shortstop. "I'm not going to beat him down for a ball that got in-between hops on him. We had a few other mistakes that were more controllable than that one."

Ortiz led off the fourth with his 16th home run, launching a 2-2 pitch from starter Paul Maholm into the bleachers in left-center, to go ahead, 3-2.

"That's a good lineup from top to bottom," Maholm said. "You've got to execute your pitches. I think after [the first], the only pitch I didn't do well with was the Ortiz home run. I tried to bounce it and left it over the middle and he's kind of locked in and he did what he's supposed to do."

Darwin Barney reached on an error by third baseman Kevin Youkilis to open the Cubs' sixth against Matt Albers and moved up on Castro's infield hit that barely reached the grass. Castro was forced at second on a fielder's choice and Barney scored when Jeff Baker reached on an error by shortstop Mike Aviles, who collided with Pedroia at second trying to catch Albers' relay throw.

The Red Sox rapped three straight hits in the seventh, going ahead on Ryan Kalish's RBI single. Pinch-hitter Will Middlebrooks hit a sacrifice fly and Kalish, who reached third on a throwing error by catcher Welington Castillo, scored on a suicide squeeze by Daniel Nava to open a 6-3 lead.

"That was quite messy for both teams actually," Sveum said of the bottom of the sixth and the top of the seventh. "The difference is they scored three out of it and we scored one. It was a very ugly [stretch]."

Morales, making a spot start for injured Josh Beckett, struck out a career-high nine batters over five innings.

"Well you know, we had a hunch that he could perform well in that situation and he proved our hunch correct," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of the lefty. "Those were five pretty good innings. I'd like to give him a chance to do more next time."

Perhaps the Cubs' team psychiatrist needs to address the sinistrophobia -- that's a fear of things to the left or left-handed -- that's gripping the players .

"It's the same story -- a left-handed pitcher, we were getting beat constantly on the fastball," Sveum said. "That's the bottom line. It wasn't like he was doing a whole lot else besides throwing a lot of fastballs."

The Cubs dropped to 3-15 against left-handed starters. The good news? They will face three right-handers in their final Interleague series against the White Sox, which begins Monday. Chicago is 3-9 against the American League so far.

"We just need to play better all-around baseball, playing catch, putting the ball in play, and throwing strikes," Johnson said. "Those things, we haven't done that over the course of this year all that well and you see where it gets you."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.