3 Cubs crack Top-20 in MLB's 2019 most popular jerseys list

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USA TODAY

3 Cubs crack Top-20 in MLB's 2019 most popular jerseys list

Once again, the Cubs are well-represented when it comes to MLB jersey sales.

MLB released its top jerseys list for the 2019 season on Friday, and three Cubs cracked the Top-20. Behind Javier Báez (No. 4), Anthony Rizzo (No. 10) and Kris Bryant (No. 16), the North Siders are well-represented in the list, which is based on sales from MLBShop.com since the start of the season.

Báez, Bryant and Rizzo have made the cut in three-straight seasons, though Bryant (No. 2 in 2017, No. 7 in 2018) and Rizzo (No. 3 in 2017, No. 6 in 2018) each dropped considerably this time around. This could be due to the Cubs struggling in 2019, though, as they'll miss the postseason for the first time since 2014. 

Báez's popularity is unwavering, though. Back in August, Little League World Series players voted the Cubs shortstop their favorite MLB player, ahead of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.

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Nico Hoerner leaving great impression on Cubs: 'We believe in him'

Nico Hoerner leaving great impression on Cubs: 'We believe in him'

A little more than two weeks ago, Nico Hoerner was sitting on his couch back in his hometown of Oakland. With Double-A Tennessee’s season over, the 22-year-old was preparing to head down to the Arizona Fall League for the second-straight year.

Now, Hoerner is the Cubs starting shortstop, starting for a Cubs team that’s pushing for a fifth-straight postseason berth while Javier Báez rehabs his fractured left thumb.

Talk about a heck of a month.

“It’s been special to be a part of a team that’s trying to win right now and being around a lot of guys that have played at this level really successfully for a long time,” Hoerner said Sunday. [I’ve] learned a lot.”

When the Cubs called Hoerner up, no one expected him to produce on a Báez-like level. This is meant more as a compliment to Báez than anything, as he brings game-changing elements to the Cubs at the plate, on the bases and defensively.

And yet, considering that Hoerner only has 89 career minor league games to his name, what he’s done in the big leagues is more than impressive. Including his three plate appearances on Sunday, Hoerner holds a .286/.322/.482 slash line, recording hits in 11 of his first 14 games and making plenty of hard contact.

“As a hitter, there’s always things you can work on to be more consistent,” he said. “But overall, I’ve been pretty happy with my ability to be present, compete as best as I can, and I feel like I’ve been pretty consistent with my preparation.”

Hoerner has also started at shortstop in every one of those contests, showing off impressive range and hands while making no errors. It might just be two weeks, but his play has impressed both Joe Maddon and Báez already.

“You cannot have possibly asked for more than you’ve got out of Nico,” Maddon said on Sunday. “And the thing is, he’s gonna keep getting better. This guy is a gym rat when it comes to baseball.

“He loves doing this and he does it really, really well. He’s a solid, really good baseball player and he’s gonna keep getting better. I really believe that.”

“Unbelievable,” Báez said Saturday about Hoerner’s performance thus far. “It’s not easy to just come up and play, even if it’s in September. We believe in him and he’s done a great job for the team and for our pitchers.”

Although Báez’s injury certainly played a factor, the Cubs called up Hoerner because Addison Russell took a pitch off the face on Sept. 8, going into concussion protocol as a result.

With no true shortstops on their roster, Hoerner was the Cubs’ best bet to man the position in the meantime. But while Báez is limited to pinch-hitting and running right now, Russell has been cleared to play.

Even with Russell – a former All-Star shortstop – back in the fold, though, Maddon is having a hard time going away from Hoerner as his everyday shortstop.

“With Addy, we did not know when Addy would be available, and he is right now,” Maddon said. “Addy is available, but I just really can’t walk away from what Nico is doing.”

Báez is attempting to return to the Cubs starting lineup during their upcoming series against the Pirates. This would move Hoerner off of shortstop, though he and the Cubs are confident in his ability to play other positions.

Of the 75 games he played in Double-A this season Hoerner made 17 appearances at second base and 11 in center field.

“I can help in a wide range of ways,” he said. “The need right now has been at shortstop, but when it comes to the future, who knows what will happen. [I’m] down to go anywhere on the field.”

“It could be second, it could be to give somebody a day off in another position,” Maddon said. “He’s adept at a lot of different spots, and that was the original conversation I had when he got here with the front office guys. They said, ‘Listen, he can play everywhere.’”

2020 is still far away, and the Cubs are still in contention for a postseason spot this season. It’s hard not to look ahead, though, especially considering how (in a small sample size) Hoerner is proving he could be a fixture on the Cubs for years to come.

No matter what, though, Hoerner’s career is looking like a bright one.

“His bat to ball skills are so good and he’s always had that,” Maddon said. “I don’t see that as dissipating, I don’t. And the way he processes the day, that shouldn’t be altered either. With good health, he should be fine.”

“I know I can help this team and I can do that in a wide range of ways,” Hoerner said. [I’m going to] continue to develop and give myself the best chance I can.”

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Nico Hoerner shouldn't be viewed as a savior, but debut proves he can help Cubs reach October

Nico Hoerner shouldn't be viewed as a savior, but debut proves he can help Cubs reach October

With Monday’s game against the Padres came clashing waves of emotion between pregame news and the in-game action for the Cubs.

Before the game, the Cubs told reporters in San Diego that Javier Báez is unlikely to play again this regular season due to a hairline fracture in his left thumb. However, Báez could return during the postseason, should the Cubs get there.

The Cubs announced Báez's injury on Saturday, but the shortstop’s visit with a hand specialist Monday confirmed the diagnosis. This, combined with losing three out of four games against the Brewers over the weekend, created a less-than-ideal start to the week for a Cubs team in a heated playoff race.

The vibes all changed once Monday’s game got underway, courtesy of 2018 first-round pick and incumbent Cubs shortstop, Nico Hoerner.

With both Báez and Addison Russell on the mend, the Cubs called up Hoerner from Double-A to fill the team’s vacancy at shortstop. Hoerner, who has just 89 minor league games to his name, didn’t disappoint. The 22-year-old finished the night an impressive 3-for-5, a line that featured a triple and four RBIs, all while playing impressive defense at shortstop.

One game is an incredibly small sample size, but Hoerner’s debut demonstrated a special element that he can bring to the Cubs offense down the stretch: putting the ball in play.

Including Monday’s 10-2 win over the Padres, 50.5 percent (355 of 703) of Cubs runs scored this season have come via home runs. This, combined with the fact that their hitters tend to expand the strike zone, has led to an up-and-down showing by the Cubs offense this season.

Hoerner put the ball in play in each plate appearance Monday. It’s unfair to expect him to rack up three hits a night, but his ability to make contact will change the dynamic of the Cubs offense. It’s better to keep the line moving than stalling it with a strikeout, essentially. Take Hoerner’s first MLB plate appearance, where he recorded his first big league hit.

Despite being down 0-2 in the count, Hoerner fought off a tough pitch — a slider diving down and away — and got the bat on it. He went with the pitch rather than attempting to pull it, going the other way for a bloop single into right field.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has preached time after time that the key to his team’s offensive success is to stay within the strike zone and use the opposite field. The Cubs have shown flashes of this in 2019, though not nearly as much as one would like.

Hoerner, on the other hand, did both on Monday, his first professional game above the Double-A level. This is more of a compliment towards him than it is criticism of the Cubs offense. Not many players one year removed from college can put together the type of at-bats that Hoerner did Monday — especially those with as little professional experience as him.

What happens next obviously remains to be seen, but Hoerner will likely start every game at shortstop that Russell misses. The latter is in concussion protocol after getting hit in the helmet with a pitch on Sunday, though how much time Russell will miss is not yet clear.

It’s premature to look ahead to the postseason — the Cubs must get there first — but what they do with Hoerner will be interesting if they clinch a spot. According to MLB rules, any player on a team’s 40-man roster as of 10:59 p.m. CT on Aug. 31 is eligible for the postseason.

The Cubs didn’t add Hoerner, of course, to the 40-man roster until Monday. However, there is a loophole to the aforementioned rule, if the Cubs reach the postseason and want Hoerner on the roster.

Teams can add players in Hoerner’s position to a postseason roster via a petition to the Commissioner’s Office if:

-the player was in the organization on Aug. 31 and
-is replacing someone on the injured list who has served the minimum amount of time for activation (ex: a player on the 10-day IL who has served 10 days there)

The Cubs can get Hoerner on their postseason roster using a player such as Brandon Morrow. Morrow has been on the 60-day injured list since May 2, so he matches the above criteria.

Báez is set to spend the rest of the regular season rehabbing his fractured left thumb, all with the hope of returning in October for a Cubs postseason run. Knowing how competitive Báez is, though, one would think he'll do everything he can to make it back to the Cubs by October.

Even if Báez returns in time, the Cubs will have an interesting decision to make. If Hoerner continues to hit, he could be a potent weapon in the postseason, especially when considering his speed and defensive skill and versatility (he can play second base and center field, too).

Hoerner has just one game under his big league belt, albeit an impressive one. Whether he keeps up this success is to be determined, but based on the sample size at hand, Hoerner seems capable of helping the Cubs reach the postseason, even if he doesn't get the chance to play in October himself.

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