Cubs

Cubs show win-now urgency in pulling closer Hector Rondon

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Cubs show win-now urgency in pulling closer Hector Rondon

WASHINGTON – There were no epic meltdowns or shots fired through the media. You didn’t hear the sound of 40,000 fans booing at Wrigley Field. But once again the Cubs have a closer controversy.

Jason Hammel had been doused with a mixture of Monster Amino supplements during the postgame mosh pit, leaving a pinkish/white substance all over his shirt and the back of his head.

Joe Maddon lobbied for his pitcher to make the All-Star team during the manager’s postgame media session. Addison Russell looked smooth making his first big-league start at shortstop. The Cubs are in position to win a series against one of the National League’s elite teams.

But Maddon’s decision to pull Hector Rondon after facing one batter in the ninth inning definitely drove the conversation coming out of Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“It was about winning the game today,” Maddon said. “I am not ordaining anybody new. It was a moment for today.”

Hammel pitched into the ninth inning and walked off the mound at Nationals Park after giving up Bryce Harper’s 19th home run this season. Maddon then watched Rondon throw nine straight fastballs – each one clocked between 95 and 97 mph – and walk Anthony Rendon.

Wilson Ramos had already homered once this afternoon and Maddon didn’t hesitate to call for Pedro Strop, a better fit with his groundball rates when compared to Rondon’s flyball tendencies.

Remember when Rondon threw the Milwaukee Brewers 19 consecutive fastballs last month, almost blowing a four-run lead before hanging on for a 7-6 victory?

[MORE: Why the Cubs once passed on Addison Russell in the draft]

“It’s just how the walk occurred, too,” Maddon said. “I wasn’t comfortable with what I was seeing.”

Strop forced that groundball in the Ramos matchup and then struck out Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond, getting them to swing at sliders in the dirt. Strop pointed to the sky and pounded his chest after notching his second save.

Rondon might not be the ninth-inning answer in Maddon’s bullpen equation.

“I may look for an opportunity for him just to pitch more freely in a different moment,” Maddon said, “so he can go out there and work on some stuff, because this guy’s done a great job here in the past finishing games off. He’s going to do it again. But for right now, I just thought that was the right thing to do today.”

[ALSO: Soler expecting a fast recovery]

Rondon saved 29 games last year, but the stakes are much higher for a 29-25 team that’s playing with a win-now sense of urgency.

“It’s just being more assertive, aggressive, confident,” Maddon said. “The stuff is great and the guy’s great. He came up to me, fist pump after the game, which shows me what kind of a professional that he is. It was outstanding. He wants to win. He’s a team guy. He’s going to be a big part of our future. Today, I thought it was better to do what we did.”

Rondon admitted he felt “a little bit” surprised by Maddon’s quick decision but said all the right things and appeared to handle it well, calmly answering questions at his locker.

“Any situation they want to put me in, I’ll take it,” Rondon said.

It’s not like Rondon is losing velocity or looking like a total mechanical mess or causing scenes in the clubhouse. His overall numbers are actually pretty good: 3-0, 3.09 ERA, 10 saves, 21 strikeouts vs. seven walks in 23-plus innings.

But Rondon is trending in the wrong direction and a manager and a front office that has already shaken up the roster several times within the first two months will only have so much patience.

“If (Maddon) puts me in the ninth inning, the fifth inning, seventh inning, I don’t care,” Rondon said. “I need to do (my job).”

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.