On June 8 the Cubs hit their low point of the season, 10 games under .500 after getting swept by the Angels. They were 26-36, 6 1/2 games out of the wild card.

I’d like to tell you that the Cubs played a good defensive game the next day. They didn’t. They mishandled a hit, botched a foul pop up and bobbled a slow roller.

But I can tell you that if we measure from June 9 forward that the Cubs’ playing pretty good defense is a big part of this turnaround.

The Cubs rank tied for 3rd in Defensive Runs Saved this season after ranking 21st in 2022. They currently have the biggest improvement in Runs Saved ranking from last year to this year.

Team Defensive Runs Saved
Blue Jays 61
Brewers 46
Cubs 31
Padres 31

When we isolate skill and just look at that (in other words, discounting positioning), the Cubs fielders have the second-most Defensive Runs Saved in MLB since June 9 trailing only the Brewers.

What’s the story of their season from a defensive perspective? There have been two things that have been the biggest keys.

The middle infield

The Cubs made it a point to improve their middle-infield defense this offseason. After signing Dansby Swanson to play shortstop and moving Nico Hoerner from shortstop to full-time second base, the Cubs went into the season with arguably the best second base-shortstop combo in MLB.

It’s lived up to the billing. 


Cubs second basemen and shortstop have combined for 23 Runs Saved, the most in MLB in 2023. Swanson ranks second to Wander Franco in Runs Saved at shortstop with 12. Hoerner has 6 Runs Saved at second base, which ranks tied for 6th, and his fill-ins also have 3 Runs Saved.

Most Defensive Runs Saved – 2023 Middle Infields

Team Defensive Runs Saved
Cubs 23
Rays 18
Rangers 12
Yankees 11
Orioles 11
Dodgers 10

Outfield Improvement

After spending the first two months of the season with a negative Runs Saved total, 2022 Gold Glove-winning left fielder Ian Happ has turned it around. He has 3 Defensive Runs Saved and a positional high 7 assists without the help of a cutoff man. His 7 Runs Saved in left field since June 9 rank second to Steven Kwan’s 11. 


Though Happ isn’t on pace to match his numbers from 2022, the rest of the Cubs outfield is going to far surpass their totals from what was a rough 2022.

Cubs center fielders ranked last in MLB last season with -19 Runs Saved and only three teams had a right fielder total worse than the Cubs’ -9. This season, with Cody Bellinger and Mike Tauchman patrolling center, the Cubs have improved their Runs Saved total to -1 Run Saved. 

An 18-run jump makes a big difference regardless of where you’re starting from. So does the 9-run jump that the Cubs have made in right field thanks to better play from Seiya Suzuki (2 Runs Saved in right field after totaling -4 in his rookie season). And some of the plays these outfielders are making are highly impactful

 The Cubs offense is averaging better than 7 runs per game in the last 23 games. We can’t dispute that it’s the primary reason why the Cubs find themselves in the Wild Card race. But make sure to take note of their defense too, as it has made and can continue to make the difference between winning and losing.