Cubs

Javy Being Javy: Cubs won’t change Baez’s aggressive style

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USA TODAY

Javy Being Javy: Cubs won’t change Baez’s aggressive style

PITTSBURGH – From team president Theo Epstein to manager Joe Maddon to a hands-off clubhouse, the Cubs can’t – or won’t – stop Javy Being Javy.

It doesn’t matter that All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (plantar fasciitis/strained right foot) has been sidelined since early August and may not return until late September. Javier Baez understands the danger in trying to modulate his game and worrying too much about what he means to the defending World Series champs in the big picture.

“If I pay attention to that, I think that’s the way I get hurt,” Baez said. “I got to play like I’m playing. That’s one thing that Theo told me (before) one of the years I played winter ball.

“I’m just going to do what I do. Obviously, play hard. And if anything happens, there would be a reason for it.”

The Cubs scratched Baez from their Labor Day lineup with a sore left thumb he jammed during Sunday’s headfirst slide into Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies. Baez crashed into Albies’s left knee, leaving him with blurry vision in his left eye for about 15 minutes.   

Baez didn’t go into Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol and didn’t stay overnight at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He fully expects to be back in the lineup on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

“Everything’s good,” Baez said. “Everything’s back to normal now.”

In case of emergency, the Cubs signed Mike Freeman to a minor-league deal in early August. Freeman made a spot start during Monday’s 12-0 loss at shortstop, where super-utility guy Ben Zobrist eventually slid over from second base. But on a playoff-caliber team, the drop-off is so steep from Russell and Baez, who just put together one of the best all-around months (.290 average, seven homers, 21 runs scored, 25 RBI) of his career.

[MORE: Anthony Rizzo is the poster child for Cubs offense that has finally found its rhythm]

So Baez will keep following his instincts and using the daring, aggressive style that made him a breakout star during last year’s postseason.  

“Don’t ask people to back off – that’s when you’re going to get hurt,” Maddon said. “Let guys go play. It’s a rough game. It’s a tough game. Things happen. But if you’re trying to protect yourself, you’re never going to play a good game.

“I would never ask him to hold back at any time. He’s wonderful. He’s getting better on a daily basis. You can see how important he is to us right now.”

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.