Addison Russell, Javy Baez and the state of the Cubs shortstop position

Addison Russell, Javy Baez and the state of the Cubs shortstop position

Addy or Javy?

There isn't quite a position battle brewing at shortstop for the Cubs and Joe Maddon didn't go all Lovie Smith and say something like, "Addison Russell is our shortstop."

But it's also clear who the Cubs' long-term answer is at short, even despite Javy Baez's recent success and Russell's season-long struggles.

Right now, Maddon is just simplifying everything at the shortstop position, rotating the two players on a daily basis.

For the last week (following a string of five straight Russell starts at shortstop), Maddon has penciled in Baez at short one day and Russell the next. 

"It hasn't been complicated," Maddon said. "I've just been going back and forth with them. ... I've just been trying to not run either one into the ground. I've been trying to get them both playing."

Maddon also pointed to the recent play of Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ as determining factors affecting the shortstop spot. 

With the Cubs seeing so many right-handed pitchers lately, Maddon has gone with Happ in center, Jason Heyward in right field and Kyle Schwarber in left, meaning Zobrist has been relegated to second base a lot lately. That's freed Baez up to play more shortstop over the last week.

While he likes how things are playing out right now, Maddon acknowledged the daily shortstop rotation won't stick that way in the long term.

"Once Addy really gets his whole approach going back together again, then everything will come back into place," Maddon said.

Russell has taken a step back offensively this season. He broke out for 21 homers and 95 RBI in his age-22 campaign last year but entered his Sunday night start with a .211 average and .635 OPS.

There is definitely a component of luck to those numbers. 

Russell's batting average on balls in play is only .260, below league average and below the .277 mark he posted last season and .324 BABIP as a rookie.

Russell has also improved on his weak contact, dropping from soft contact 23.7 percent of the time last season to only 14.9 percent in 2017. However, he's also seen a dip in hard-hit balls from 29.3 percent in 2016 to 23.1 percent in two months so far this year.

Overall, Russell's peripheral numbers are right in line with his career marks — or better.

Earlier in the season, Maddon said he would count 2017 as a success for Russell if the young shortstop could cut down on his strikeouts and draw more walks. The Cubs manager thought the rest of the numbers would follow if the plate discipline was good.

Russell's walk rate is down slightly (9.2 percent to 8.7 percent), but he's also cut down on his strikeouts for the second straight season and is only whiffing 21 percent of the time right now.

Against the Cardinals Friday, Russell worked himself into a hitter's count in the fifth inning before striking out and then lined out to right field his next time up in the seventh.

"Keep doin' it," Maddon said. "That's the whole thing — like Schwarbs hitting the grand slam. That's nice; let's do it again. Let's have another couple good at-bats. Just continue to do that."

Meanwhile, Baez is on a tear, hitting .412 with a 1.181 OPS, four homers and 11 RBI over the last 11 games.

But even with those numbers, Baez still has only a .299 on-base percentage for the season and is on pace for just 18 walks compared to 117 strikeouts.

Of course, Baez is also on pace for 27 homers and 75 RBI and his versatility, baseball IQ and age (24) give the Cubs dynamic depth at shortstop until Russell rights the ship.

"It's unusual that we can do that — to have two shortstops that you like to play and that you feel really good about, not many teams can say that," Maddon said. "And that's part of why we can do it.

"If I didn't feel as good about one or the other playing there, the other guy would be playing and you'd just have to wear it if he's having a hard time offensively. But I think Javy's benefitted; Javy's been really good lately.

"And I think I'm seeing better out of Addison also. So let's just keep going. Lotta season left and I think if we do it this way, they're both going to be very fresh at the end of the year."

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

The Cubs finished Saturday's loss at the Nationals under protest after Joe Maddon saw what he believed to be an inconsistency in how illegal pitches are being called.

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle came in to close the game out in the ninth with the Nats up 5-2. After one pitch, Maddon went to the umpires to complain. This dragged on throughout the inning.

Maddon didn't like that Doolittle's delivery involved him pausing and potentially even touching the ground in the middle of his wind up before coming home with the pitch. To Maddon, it was clearly an illegal pitch and he was fired up because that's something Carl Edwards Jr. got called for earlier in the season. By comparison, Edwards' version may be more deliberate, but Maddon thinks it is the same thing.

"That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do," Maddon said postgame in a video posted by ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "There's no judgment. If he taps the ground, it's an illegal pitch, period. There's nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It's obvious that he did, or if you can't tell that then there's something absolutely wrong."

Maddon and the Cubs protested the game as a result. If they win the protest, the game would be restarted with one out in the ninth, when Maddon notified the umpires of the protest.

Doolittle was less than amused by Maddon's protest.

"I have no qualms against Doolittle," Maddon said. "He's great, but they took it away from our guy so for me to sit in the dugout and permit that to happen while they stripped us of that ability earlier this year with Carl, how could I do that? You can't do that. I got to say something."

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Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals


Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals

Jon Lester was on a heck of a run since coming off the IL in late April, but it came to a screeching halt on Saturday.

Lester had by far his worst start of the season at the Nationals in a 5-2 Cubs loss. He labored through his start, giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Lester gave up 10 hits, which matches the most he has given up since joining the Cubs. He gave up a fair number of hits in his last two starts, but was able to avoid trouble on the scoreboard. Lester gave up nine hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Brewers last time out, but only gave up an unearned run. On May 7, Lester gave up eight hits to the Marlins, but only allowed two unearned runs in six innings of work.

This time, Lester couldn’t stay out of trouble. Brian Dozier got the Nats on the board with a solo shot in the second and then the wheels came off in the third.

To open the third inning Lester gave up six straight hits. The Nats got three runs that inning and then added another in the fifth, when Lester departed the game.

Since Lester came off the IL on April 25, he had allowed just one earned run (four runs in total) in 24 2/3 innings. During that stretch, he had 25 strikeouts against just two walks. His ERA fell to 1.16, which would have led all of baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. It’s at 2.09 after Saturday’s loss.

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