Remember Javier Baez? “Javy Being Javy” hasn’t delivered quite the same entertainment value recently, the Cubs not blowing teams out the way they did last year or playing the same highlight-reel defense every night.
Ian Happ is now the next big thing. Kyle Schwarber is the one answering questions about his offensive approach. Baez is still getting lumped into talk-show debates and online polls about who should go in the trade for a frontline pitcher.
“The first thing that comes into my mind is I don’t control that,” Baez said after blasting the grand slam that set the tone for Thursday’s 9-5 win and swept the Cincinnati Reds out of Wrigley Field. “I can’t pick what people and fans are going to talk about. I just try to stay focused on baseball.”
Don’t forget that Baez is one of the most dynamic talents in the game, a hitter with Gary Sheffield bat speed, a Gold Glove-caliber defender all over the infield, someone who runs, tags and slides with the natural instincts of a great NBA point guard.
Plus, Baez is only 24 and already did it on the biggest stage, becoming a breakout star during last year’s playoffs and a viral sensation with Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. That combination will be pretty close to untouchable in the middle of a pennant race.
“Things happen for a reason,” Baez said. “I’ll obviously be ready to stay here, because I love Chicago and I love this organization. It’s been the best. If something comes, I know it’s not going to be anytime soon. I’m not really paying attention to that.”
Does it surprise you this would even become a topic of conversation after everything you did for a World Series team?
“Yeah, to be honest,” Baez said. “But I know it’s not going to happen yet, and hopefully not for a long time.”
Baez reminded you with one big swing in the first inning. Baez dropped his bat, took a few steps and watched Amir Garrett’s hanging slider soar out toward the top of the left-center field bleachers for a 5-0 lead. The Cubs overwhelmed Garrett, a well-regarded rookie with the frame and athleticism to play college hoops at St. John’s.
While the rebuilding Reds (19-21) are on a six-game losing streak and sinking in the National League Central, the Cubs rolled with Jon Lester, who put together another quality start (six innings, three runs) for a rotation moving in the right direction.
Led by Baez and Lester – last year’s NLCS co-MVPs – the Cubs are now 5-1 against the Reds and 16-18 vs. the rest of their schedule so far. The Cubs have scored almost 25 percent of their runs this year against Cincinnati pitching.
Baez finished with five RBI and went 3-for-3 to raise his batting average 20 points to .248. He also committed his sixth error, all signs of a young, ultra-talented team still trying to get into rhythm after making history last November.
“You shouldn’t single just him out,” said Lester (2-2, 3.57 ERA). “We all haven’t really been sharp from top to bottom. But Javy is a unique guy.
“You see him grow each at-bat. Obviously, we know (a couple) years ago about his swing-and-miss stuff and he’s made the adjustments to stay around. Obviously, his defensive side of the ball helps that.
“But you see him grow every day as a hitter. You see him make adjustments and have good at-bats and do things that can really change the game for us.”