Cubs

Why Cubs won't turn their back on Javier Baez

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AP

Why Cubs won't turn their back on Javier Baez

LOS ANGELES – Without Javier Baez, the Cubs would still be hearing about 1908 and feeling the suffocating pressure from not winning a World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers brought the best out of Baez during last year’s National League Championship Series, when his co-MVP performance showed the rest of the country what the Cubs already knew about his game-changing instincts, highlight-reel defense and unique style.   

That’s why manager Joe Maddon will keep giving Baez the benefit of the doubt, even with his second baseman stuck in an 0-for-17 slump to start the playoffs and the Cubs struggling to generate any consistent offense.   

“Javy loves this time of the year,” Maddon said before Sunday’s Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. “Javy’s been that guy throughout his minor-league and even major-league career who can be awful for a couple days at the plate, and then all of a sudden be spectacular, so I always have that in my mind with him.”

The Cubs have scored 10 runs combined in five playoffs games, plus nine in the thriller that eliminated the Washington Nationals from the NL Division Series. One of Maddon’s takeaway moments from that epic game: The Baez arm strength beating Trea Turner’s speed to home plate in the first inning.

Maddon believes defense wins championships, likes Ben Zobrist as a left-handed pinch-hitter/defensive replacement off the bench and realizes Ian Happ is still near the end of his rookie learning curve.

“The backup quarterback’s always the most popular guy in the building,” Maddon said. “Listen, Ian is very valuable in the role that we have him in right now. But among the guys that are on the field today, if you want to argue against Baez just because of his hitting, I’ll take it.

“But we’re not sitting here right now if (Javy) doesn’t make that play in the first inning on that groundball to second. I think he’s the only second baseman – or one of the few in all of baseball – that could have thrown Turner out at the plate right there.”

This hits on a larger point about the defending World Series champs. There is no NLCS trade deadline to fix the bullpen, or a magical swing adjustment that will rewire Baez as a hitter.

The Cubs invested a first-round pick in Baez, didn’t trade him for a frontline pitcher, watched him develop into a breakout playoff star and saw even more progress this season (23 homers, 75 RBI, .796 OPS).  

“He could get just as hot,” Maddon said. “I’ve seen guys. I’ve had guys like that before. Listen, these are our guys. This is how we got here. I do not run away from that.”

Albert Almora Jr. made a Gold Glove-type catch that would make Willie Mays proud

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USA TODAY

Albert Almora Jr. made a Gold Glove-type catch that would make Willie Mays proud

Albert Almora Jr. has been hot with the bat as of late, but he reminded us on Saturday what makes him so valuable to the Cubs.

With the Cubs leading 2-0 in the bottom of the third, DJ LeMahieu smoked a shot to center field that would've cut the lead in half and extended the inning had it gotten to the wall.

Instead, Almora showed off his defensive abilities by making an extremely difficult over-the-shoulder grab look so easy, and somewhere Willie Mays tipped his cap.

That's a Gold Glove-type catch, and one to bookmark when reviewing the highlight reel as a whole at the end of the season.

Almora also recorded two of the team's six hits and scored a run, but it wasn't enough in a 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Colorado native David Bote gets chance to make MLB debut in home state after Cubs place Ben Zobrist on DL

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USA TODAY

Colorado native David Bote gets chance to make MLB debut in home state after Cubs place Ben Zobrist on DL

Ahead of Saturday's game in Colorado, the Cubs placed Ben Zobrist on the 10-day disabled list with back tightness and called up David Bote, who is set to make his MLB debut in his native Colorado.

Zobrist missed the last three games and weather postponements mean he hasn't played since April 14. The 36-year-old is hitting .326 with a homer and seven RBIs. He was placed on the DL retroactive to April 18.

Zobrist's injury created an opening for a cool story for Bote. The 25-year-old was drafted by the Cubs in 2012 and hasn't exactly lit up the minors, but worked his way onto the 40-man roster after the 2017 season ended.

Bote is from Colorado and is in the lineup for Saturday's game at the Rockies. That means he will get to make his big league debut in his home state.

Bote was hitting .234 in Triple-A Iowa with a .511 slugging percentage.