Cubs

Maddon: Javy Baez has to get used to not playing every day with Cubs

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Maddon: Javy Baez has to get used to not playing every day with Cubs

This isn't like last September.

The Cubs didn't call up Javier Baez just to pencil him in at second base and the two-hole in the order every single game.

As manager Joe Maddon has said on several occassions - the time for development is over. The Cubs are in a pennant race and they need wins at just about any cost.

[RELATED - Cubs letting Kyle Schwarber 'chill' for a few days with rib injury]

Of course, Maddon also understands it can be a difficult adjustment for a guy like Baez, who is used to playing every day. That empathy part of what makes Maddon so popular with his players.

"It's a little bit different for him, there's no question," Maddon said. "But this is a different moment for a lot of our guys. It's September; we have a really solid chance for playoffs. It's not about anybody right now - it's about the Cubs. That's what guys have to get used to right now.

"Moving forward, he's going to be an everyday player. There's no question. As we move this thing to next year and the year after, you'll see him play on a consistent basis.

"But for right now, he has to figure out how to be ready sporadically sometimes, even in-game."

Baez was in the lineup Friday, hitting sixth and playing second base. It was his second start in three games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa when rosters expanded Tuesday.

Maddon said he just liked the matchup with Baez against Diamondbacks rookie Zack Godley and Baez rewarded his manager's faith with three hits - including a home run - and a bases-loaded walk.

The Cubs also got Tommy La Stella back from injury recently and Starlin Castro is coming off a month in which he appeared to turn a corner at the plate, hitting .296 with a .752 OPS in August.

That means Maddon has three solid options at second base for the season's final four weeks. He wants to play La Stella - a left-handed hitter - against right-handed starters and Castro against some lefties.

[MORE - Javier Baez returns to Cubs with something to prove]

But Maddon also raved about Baez's glovework in the infield and said he's just trying to play the best matchups on a daily basis with the lineup.

"Right now, I'm really into defense a lot," Maddon said. "I feel really good about his defense. You might see him at third base, too."

Baez played nine games at third base at Triple-A Iowa this season and Maddon admitted his versatility can mean pushing Kris Bryant to the outfield - especially with Kyle Schwarber out injured - and allowing La Stella and Castro more time at second base.

Baez also said Tuesday he brought his outfield glove to Chicago  - "just in case" - but it doesn't appear as if the Cubs have any intention of playing him there this season.

Maddon didn't declare his Saturday lineup yet, but after Friday's game, he conceded to the fact that both Baez and Castro would probably be in against Arizona lefty Robbie Ray for the second game of the series, which could mean Baez at third base.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.