Are the Brewers better at shifting against the Cubs than the rest of the league?


Watching a batter like Anthony Rizzo smoke a pitch to his pull side only to see what looked like a sure hit instead captured in shallow right by the opposing team's second baseman can be maddening. 

It drives the fans nuts, and yes, it drives the players nuts sometimes too. And it might seem at times like the Cubs are in this situation a lot, especially against the Brewers. A lineup that features hitters Rizzo, Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber invites opposing defenses to shift their infield to the right. They're not the only ones susceptible, either. As a whole, the scouting report on the Cubs has been to shift to their pull side.

"I think the Cubs are just a team that in general has players that indicate shifts," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said before Saturday's game.

Counsell also said that he doesn't think the Brewers are unique in shifting against the Cubs any more than other teams in baseball.

"I would say the rest of the league probably shifts a lot against the Cubs also," Counsell said.

As a team, the Brewers run defensive shifts more often than most of the rest of the league. They are currently ranked fourth in baseball at just under 41 percent of the time. 

"They've done a nice job with that; I cannot take that away from them," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Milwaukee's defensive positioning. 

But it's still frustrating to the fan who sees Cubs hitters seemingly so regularly smacking the ball hard but right into leather. Take, for instance, the rally-killing double play in the 7th inning yesterday. Down just 3-0 at the time, Willson Contreras and David Bote led off the frame with singles, and then Heyward drove a grounder up the middle for what, under typical defensive positioning, might plate one run or at least load the bases. But instead, Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia was there waiting behind second base to make the double play.

"When you hit it right at a guy, it's the most frustrating thing ever," Bote said. "Like man, I hit it hard, I don't get a hit; I hit it soft, I don't get a hit."

Despite this frustration, the reality is that baseball is decided by a lot of good or bad fortune. Ben Zobrist's game-winning double in the final game of the 2016 World Series could just as easily been a double play if Cleveland's third baseman had been situated a few inches closer to the bag. At the moment, the Cubs might seem to have experienced a lot of the bad fortune, but luck in baseball shifts quickly.

"You try to play where they hit the ball. And sometimes you get burned by it, and sometimes you look good on it," Counsell said. "Over the long haul, we think it’s a net positive, and that’s why we continue to do it and continue to work and try to improve on it."

The Cubs see the work teams like the Brewers are doing and accept the effect. It's part of the modern game.

"They do a really good job of getting in the right spot at the right time. It's all percentages. We do the same thing and other teams get mad at it, too," Bote said of Milwaukee's defense. "That's part of the game where it is right now. You're playing the game - that's part of it. You're playing percentages, you're playing chances."

It might not lessen the frustration in the moment — both for player and fan — when a well-hit ball proves fruitless, but Maddon and the Cubs know over time that their luck can change.

"That can go the other way eventually, too," Maddon said of the success of shifts against his team. "For right now, yes, we hit some balls really well right at 'em and that can be frustrating at times. But you just gotta miss."

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