Cubs

Cubs: Javier Baez making a playoff statement with his defense

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Cubs: Javier Baez making a playoff statement with his defense

PITTSBURGH — The question isn’t so much whether or not Javier Baez belongs on the playoff roster. It’s becoming whether or not the Cubs can afford to keep him out of the lineup.

Baez is that good defensively, the kind of unique talent that could help the Cubs beat Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-run wild-card game where every play matters.

Baez finally forced the issue after not making the team out of spring training, taking an extended leave of absence after the death of his sister in April and fracturing his finger on a headfirst slide in June with Triple-A Iowa.

If the Cubs wanted to acquire a frontline pitcher like Carlos Carrasco or Tyson Ross at the July 31 trade deadline, they probably would have had to give up Baez in a deal with the Cleveland Indians or San Diego Padres.

“You still heard a lot of things,” Baez said before Wednesday night’s game against the Pirates. “But I was trying to get better every day and learn something from the game every day.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs expecting Jorge Soler back for Cardinals series]

It seems like Baez was humbled by last season’s audition with the Cubs (95 strikeouts in 52 games) and a difficult year from a personal and professional standpoint. Something had to change for a natural shortstop with contact issues and an aggressive swing that can look out of control at times.

The Cubs gave Addison Russell the night off on Wednesday and moved Baez back to shortstop at PNC Park, where these two contenders will likely meet again on Oct. 7 in the National League’s wild-card game.

There will be room for Baez somewhere if he’s playing like a Gold Glove third baseman. Just listen to manager Joe Maddon describe the way Baez charged a chopper and made a barehanded play to rob Michael Morse during a 2-1 Game 2 win in Tuesday’s doubleheader.

“Outstanding,” Maddon said. “Almost like the old Brooks (Robinson), Graig Nettles kind of a thing where you look at the ball and then you throw it to first base accurately without any stress.”

Baez had been tough enough and versatile enough to play some catcher at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, Fla., where he developed into the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft.

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And Maddon doesn’t doubt that Baez could play anywhere in the outfield now, though the manager doesn’t see the point in moving such a gifted infielder off the dirt.

“I feel good at third base,” Baez said. “I thought it was going to be weird, but I’m seeing the ball off the bat really good.”

Baez — who still writes and eats left-handed and uses that as his dominant side — believes that helps him react with the glove and get into such an easy defensive flow.

“When I was little, I used to do everything left-handed,” Baez said. “All my brothers and my cousin played shortstop. They just wanted me to play short and made me right-handed. I was swinging lefty in high school and it hurts my back, so I stopped.”

A young player with Gary Sheffield bat speed also appears to be more under control at the plate, hitting .302 in his first 13 games as a September call-up. But Maddon believes pitching and defense wins championships, which means Baez is a wild card in the team’s plans.

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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