Jon Jay: The underrated hero the Cubs need


Jon Jay: The underrated hero the Cubs need

Willson Contreras is the best player on the planet right now. Anthony Rizzo is the face of the franchise. Kris Bryant is the reigning NL MVP.

But Jon Jay has been the hero the Cubs need.

The 32-year-old outfielder has flown under the radar with fans, but players and coaches around the league have always appreciated his game.

Jay began the year as a part-time player for the Cubs — a pinch-hitter off the bench, a defensive replacement and spot-starter at any of the three spots in the outfield.

But he's been playing full time lately and filling the void at the top of the order. Jay has started nine of the Cubs' last 11 games, playing a ton of center field while rookies Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. work to make adjustments. 

"He's playing at a very high level right now," Joe Maddon said. "We have really been in need of his services. He's made a great impact this year and we wouldn't be nearly in as good of shape without him right now."

Jay's numbers don't jump off the page, but he is hitting 298 with a .388 on-base percentage and is sixth on the team in position-player WAR, ahead of guys like Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber.

In addition to what he's done on the field, Jay has helped fill the leadership void in the clubhouse with David Ross now in the broadcast booth and Cubs front office. Maddon has even called Jay his sidekick.

"It's very important when you get that kind of support," Maddon said. "Jon Jay is a pro. I do lean on him a little bit talking to some of the younger guys. I'll say things to him and I know that he'll take the message properly to the player.

"He has influence. There's no question. Who works better at-bats than he does right now? Who works harder than he does? Watch him in the outfield shagging fly balls when we take batting practice. He wears his little beanie and his hoodie and he goes out there and he works his butt off and I love it.

"In the weight room, he's always on the treadmill or on the bike or doing something to stay ready. Just has a great method about him. He's got a good way with the guys about him also. They kinda gravitate toward him."

Jay has never been an All-Star. He's only notched more than 500 plate apperances once in his eight seasons. His career high in homers is 10 and has never driven in or scored more than 75 runs in a season.

But he also doesn't try to do too much. He's not up there swinging for the bleachers, choosing instead to spray the ball from sideline to sideline with a line-drive approach.

His teammates love him. To a man, when asked about Jay, each guy in the Cubs clubhouse immediately goes to his work ethic and preparation. 

You'd think the phrase, "he's a true professional" might have actually been invented for Jay the way his teammates and coaches keep coming back to it.

Just ask John Lackey about Jay (the two played together in St. Louis in 2014-15). Lackey often spends his post-start media sessions giving reporters short answers or calling teammates out for not turning enough batted balls into outs, but his face lit up when asked about Jay.

"Man, just a pro," Lackey said. "He's prepared, he's ready to play every day whether he's in the lineup or not. He does his work, he puts together a professional at-bat every time he's up there.

"He knows what he's trying to do. He knows who he is as a player. He's a guy you can trust, for sure."

Jay has always been this way, according to Almora, a Miami-area native who watched Jay play with the University of Miami.

Jay has really taken Almora under his wing this season, helping the young outfielder handle a reduced role and staying ready for any opportunity in the game, whether as a pinch-hitter, defensive replacement or pinch-runner.

"His work ethic's off the charts ever since I've known him," Almora said. "He came into the University of Miami, he had his own gameplan and workout. He knew what he had to do to get ready and maintain for a whole baseball season. 

"Now being with him day in and day out, just the preparation work, the mental part of the game. He loves the game. He's a student of the game and every time he sees an opportunity to tell me something for me to learn, he's always there."

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Cincinnati Reds

2017 record: 68-94, last in NL Central

Offseason additions: Cliff Pennington, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Kevin Quackenbush

Offseason departures: Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman, Drew Storen

X-factor: Homer Bailey

Bailey appeared to be entering ace territory when the Reds locked him up to a six-year, $105 million extension before the 2014 season. Over the two years prior (2012-13), he went 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 367 strikeouts over 417 innings.

But in the four seasons since he signed that extension, Bailey has pitched just 271 innings, going 17-18 with an ugly 4.95 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. 2017 (6.43 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) was especially ugly.

There is cause for optimism, however. In the final seven starts of the season last year, Bailey posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.

Bailey is only 31 (and turns 32 in May) so there is still time. He's getting the Reds' Opening Day start and if he can rekindle his top-of-rotation form, it'd go a long way in the team's rebuilding.

Projected lineup

1. Billy Hamilton - CF
2. Jesse Winker - LF
3. Joey Votto - 1B
4. Eugenio Suarez - 3B
5. Scooter Gennett - 2B
6. Jose Peraza - SS
7. Scott Shebler - RF
8. Tucker Barnhart - C 

Projected rotation

1. Homer Bailey
2. Luis Castillo
3. Tyler Mahle
4. Sal Romano
5. Amir Garrett


When you replace Zack Cozart with Cliff Pennington and the "big" free agent splashes were a couple of 32-year-old relief pitchers (Hernandez and Hughes), you're not tryin', bro.

The Reds are in full rebuild mode, which is really sad for Votto in his age-34 season. Somehow, Votto seems to defy aging. He was the best hitter in the NL last year, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks while passing the 30-homer, 100-RBI threshold for the first time since 2010.

But poor Votto hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2013 and the Reds are years away from another trip to October, especially in this suddenly-stacked division.

Castillo is a budding ace, Peraza and Winker could be nice pieces for the future, Suarez is locked up long-term and Barnhart is one of the more underrated backstops in the league. Top prospect Nick Senzel is also on his way soon, as are a gaggle of young starting pitchers.

There will inevitably be growing pains for all these inexperienced players, but things could be a lot worse for a rebuilding team. Still, by the time the Reds are ready to contend in 2020 or later, will Votto still be at the top of his game when he's at least 36?

Prediction: Last in NL Central

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."