CHICAGO -- If you thought the Cubs were playing without a third baseman at times during Saturday's win over the Mets, you wouldn't be entirely off base.
The defensive shifts that manager Dale Sveum and his staff like to employ have been on display this weekend at Wrigley Field when Mets outfielder Rick Ankiel comes to bat. When the left-handed-hitting Ankiel steps in the box, all infielders shift to the right, putting, in Saturday's scenario, third baseman Luis Valbuena where shortstop Starlin Castro would ordinarily be.
The reason is simple: Thirteen of Ankiel's 16 hits entering Saturday had gone up the middle or to right field.
The shift led to Ankiel bunting down the third-base line in the seventh inning for his first career bunt hit.
"[Ankiel's] had those situations before, and he's never done it," Sveum said. "I don't really like doing it in that situation because he was a pitcher, and he's a very good athlete that can do it, but you don't want to do it in that kind of game leading off an inning."
At that time the Cubs were ahead, 5-0. Although Ankiel didn't score and Chicago added three runs in the eighth, Sveum said the Cubs will continue to shift when applicable.
"We've calmed it down a little bit," he said. "We've gone through a stretch of teams where there hasn't been too many [pull hitters]. [The Mets] had some guys, obviously, but we went through a stretch where there weren't too many shifts necessary."
Rizzo reaping rewards of getting back to roots
CHICAGO -- First baseman Anthony Rizzo entered Sunday's series finale against the Mets having not struck out in his last 39 at-bats.
"Shhh!" said manager Dale Sveum when this was mentioned following Saturday's win, and he may have been right to be concerned, as Rizzo was struck out by Dillon Gee in his very first at-bat.
It's not quite jinxing a no-hitter or a perfect game -- if you believe in such things -- but Rizzo's streak was certainly an impressive one, and was the second longest in the Majors behind that of San Francisco's Hunter Pence (40).
Sveum said that the biggest thing Rizzo has done in that span, which dates back to the sixth inning of the May 7 game against St. Louis, is get back to his roots.
"He got back to when we saw him at first last year, when he first got here," Sveum said. "Just a guy that refused to strike out and takes the ball and hits the ball the other way with two strikes and takes his RBIs."
The differences in Rizzo between now and earlier this season are easily seen in the stats; the second-year first baseman was hitting .173 with 26 strikeouts in his first 21 games, compared with .390 and eight strikeouts in his last 21. He also has improved against lefties overall, batting .315 against them this year opposed to the .208 mark he posted as a rookie.
"I think it's more mental than anything," Rizzo said. "People struggle lefty on lefty, but they still have to throw the ball over the plate. It's just a little different arm slot, so you just have to adjust a little bit."
The adjustment has been made, and the results thus far are positive. Now Rizzo just needs to continue doing what he's done over the past 21 games, which is trying not to do too much.
"It's not overthinking," Rizzo said of the difference. "It doesn't matter who's pitching -- lefty, righty, underhand, whatever. You just keep it as simple as possible."
Villanueva adds veteran presence to bullpen
CHICAGO -- Right-hander Carlos Villanueva was available out of the bullpen for Sunday's series finale against the Mets, one day after losing his spot in the rotation because of Matt Garza's impending return.
The move adds a veteran weapon to a relief corps that has been impressive as of late. The 29-year-old has appeared mostly as a reliever in his career -- 245 of his 309 career appearances entering Sunday had come in relief -- so manager Dale Sveum isn't concerned about Villanueva getting back in the groove and finding a routine.
"He's done it many, many times, so I'm sure he has his own gig that way," Sveum said.
Sveum said that Villanueva will pitch in multiple roles and that the Cubs will not have a typical long man waiting for a starter to falter.
"Obviously, he's built up to pitch very long, but he's not that typical long guy where you sit there and you say, 'Oh, we have to save him in case our starter blows out in the first inning or gets beat up,'" Sveum said. "You don't do that with him. He'll just be one of the guys."
Castro's potential 'what he wants it to be,' says Sveum
CHICAGO -- The Cubs know that shortstop Starlin Castro has a bright future ahead of him. It's just that he continues to make some puzzling mistakes.
In the second inning of Saturday's game, he made an error on a routine grounder on a potential double-play ball and had a rough day at the plate, going hitless and seeing only 14 pitches in five at-bats.
It was a bad day, no doubt, and it seems like those bad days just leave everyone wanting more out of the 23-year-old.
"His potential is what he wants it to be, that's the bottom line with him," manager Dale Sveum said. "How good he wants to be, that's up to him -- the hard work and the concentration levels and being able to have all kinds of things in your toolbox as a shortstop, as well as a hitter."
Sveum has seen growth in Castro from last season to this season, especially when it comes to cutting down on mental lapses. Although that's a start, Castro is still making physical errors -- not just defensively -- at an alarming rate.
"Mentally, I think he's gotten a lot better, but physically and things like that, I think we're seeing a lot of the same stuff that we still need to get better at on a consistent daily basis -- the concentration of at-bats and defense and all that, too," Sveum said. "When you get to this level and you've played this much now, it's up to him how good he wants to be."
• David DeJesus entered Sunday's series finale batting 11-for-28 with two home runs, seven doubles and 10 runs scored as the leadoff hitter, and he added a double off New York's Dillon Gee to lead off the game.
"You're talking about one of the better all-around leadoff hitters in the game right now," manager Dale Sveum said of DeJesus, who entered with a .861 OPS. "The OPS is pretty close to .900, and it is over .900 against right-handed pitching. You can't ask for any more out of a leadoff guy than a .900 OPS."
• The fourth annual Wrigley Field Road Tour began on Friday, with more than 50 people biking the 100 miles from board member Todd Ricketts' Higher Gear bike store in Wilmette to Wrigley Field. The event has raised nearly $1 million since its inception, benefiting Chicago Cubs Charities and World Bicycle Relief. Monies raised will provide bicycles to students in rural Africa, providing access to education, health care and economic opportunities, as well as fund Chicago-area programs focused on health, fitness and education opportunities for underserved Chicago youth and families.