Cubs

Cubs will ride out boom-and-bust cycles with Javier Baez because the upside is so great

Cubs will ride out boom-and-bust cycles with Javier Baez because the upside is so great

The Cubs will live with the boom-and-bust cycles for Javier Baez, because he can still be a game-changing presence with his swim moves and freakish sense for tagging, whether or not he looks out of control at home plate.

“Not so much,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday when asked if Baez is at that point in his career where he has to earn his at-bats. “I’m just trying to balance everything out right now, honestly. I even told him: ‘Go and strike out as often as you need to. Go ahead, I don’t care. I really don’t care.’

“I just want to see him play with that focus and passion. That’s all I want. I totally expect him to strike out. I totally expect him to swing at balls in the dirt and over his head, absolutely.

“I do eventually believe it’s going to go away. But the only way it’s going to go away is if he keeps getting a chance to do that.”

Baez boosted his batting average 66 points (up from .203) during the first two games of this week's series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, drilling his second and third home runs this season and almost hitting for the cycle on Tuesday night.

Baez oozes style, but Maddon also loves the substance to his game. When hitting at the bottom of the lineup, Baez has made first-inning flip drills with assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske part of his routine. Baez also seems to be getting the message from the coaching staff and trying to reduce his leg kick.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Baez is no longer the all-or-nothing hitter who blasted nine homers and struck out 95 times during his 52-game audition with the Cubs in 2014. But this is also a player who has drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton.

In terms of an offensive ceiling, Maddon said, “I don’t think it’s going to be revealed to us for another couple years.

“I think it’s very high, absolutely. You’re still going to see him go through these kinds of moments, up and down. The difference with him is that even during the down moments offensively he can still help you win with his defense and his baserunning.

“So I fully anticipate seeing those offensive swings in a sense — up and down — but the reward’s going to be great. When he really figures it out, the reward is going to show up and it’s going to be outstanding to watch.”

Starting Baez at second base over World Series MVP Ben Zobrist for all 17 playoff games last season is a clear indication of what Maddon is thinking. So is sticking with Baez through a slow start (.601 April OPS) and the Cubs listing him as their second baseman on the All-Star ballot.

“I think everybody knows how good I am,” Baez said. “I don’t have to show anybody anything. I control the things that I can control.

“I’m always going to play with passion and try to do my best out there, whether it’s on defense or on offense.”

The transition from part-time player and age-24 learning curve for Baez is emblematic of a team where leadoff guy Kyle Schwarber, catcher Willson Contreras and center fielder Albert Almora Jr. all own World Series rings but still haven’t completed a full season in The Show yet.

“It just happens everywhere,” Maddon said. “These guys are young and they’re learning on the fly on the major-league level with a lot of scrutiny going on, so just wait a couple years. This guy is going to really show you how good he is.”

Kyle Schwarber put up an epic HR Derby showing but couldn't quite hold off Bryce Harper

Kyle Schwarber put up an epic HR Derby showing but couldn't quite hold off Bryce Harper

The hometown hero adorned with American flag attire took down America's Large Adult Son.

Bryce Harper walked off Kyle Schwarber in the 2018 Home Run Derby with his 19th homer in bonus time Monday night, lining a shot to center field to appease the Washington crowd at Nationals Park.

Schwarber went first in the Final Round, drilling 18 homers.

Harper followed and got off to a slow start, with only four dingers before he took his first timeout. As the final minute came around, it looked like Schwarber was going to take the crown, but Harper turnd in an incredible performance, hammering a ridiculous nine homers in 47 seconds at one point:

Schwarber wasn't an All-Star, but still showed out in the Derby with 55 homers total between the three rounds. Harper had only 45 overall, but 1 more when it mattered most:

Schwarber hit 16 in the first round, narrowly beating Astros infielder Alex Bregman by one homer. Schwarber followed that with 21 longballs in the next round to walk-off Rhys Hoskins in an epic, energizing performance.

The second-round performance from Schwarber was one for the ages. After Hoskins hit 20 to begin the showdown, Schwarber started his round slow before heating up. By the end, almost every swing was a shot out from Schwarbs and he pumped the crowd up with his fiery display of emotion after each blast.

And then, right before regulation time was to end, Schwarber notched a spot in the final for himself:

Despite a long day at the ballpark and a LOT of swings, Schwarber was still peppering the third deck in right field at Nationals Park and hit one dinger out at a whopping 111 mph.

Javy Baez hit 16 homers in the first round, but was ousted by Dodgers slugger Max Muncy (17 homers).

'The Javy Baez Show' hits the All-Star Game, with El Mago taking his place among baseball's best

'The Javy Baez Show' hits the All-Star Game, with El Mago taking his place among baseball's best

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Asked not long ago how special Javy Baez is, Joe Maddon brought up another name: Jon Lester.

To paraphrase the Cubs’ skipper: When a player with the experience of Lester is raving about Baez, you know he’s something special.

It doesn’t take a lot to realize that Baez can do things on a baseball field that few others can. The man nicknamed “El Mago” is pulling a new rabbit out of his hat each and every game, it seems, leaving even those the closest to him consistently wowed.

And, yeah, Lester thinks pretty highly of his Cubs and National League All-Star teammate, saying Monday that Baez is the best infielder he’s played with during his big league career, now in its 13th season.

“I think he is, probably, the best infielder I’ve ever played with. That speaks pretty highly,” Lester said the day prior to the Midsummer Classic in D.C. “I’ve played with some pretty good ones: (Dustin) Pedroia, Mike Lowell, (Adrian) Beltre at third. These guys are pretty special defenders and players, and I think Javy’s athleticism makes him above and beyond those guys.

“How athletic he is, how he’s able to control his body. There’s times in the game where you feel like it’s almost going backwards for him it’s so slow. And the stuff he’s able to do at the plate, defensively, you guys all see that. He’s a special player to watch. I’m just glad he’s on our side and we get to do it every day.”

Baez’s breakout campaign has him in the MVP discussion at the season’s midway point. And he’s one of the stars of these All-Star festivities, a participant in Monday’s Home Run Derby and the NL leadoff hitter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. While Cubs fans and observers have watched it all season long — Cubs teammate and fellow Derby participant Kyle Schwarber dubbed it “The Javy Baez Show” on Monday — these two days will put Baez on the national stage, one of the game’s biggest.

“I’ve seen him do some amazing things the past few years,” Reds second baseman and NL All Star Scooter Gennett said. “He couldn’t do anything that I’d be surprised (by). That’s just Javy doing some — what do they call him, ‘The Magician’ or whatever? — just doing some magic stuff. Nothing would surprise me. I’ve seen enough to be like, ‘Man, he’s extremely blessed and a really good baseball player.’”

“Javy is an electrifying player to say the least,” Houston Astros pitcher and American League All Star Gerrit Cole said. “Probably the most impressive thing outside of Javy’s glove work, which is just kind of magical in its own … I got to see him when he first came up and he knows how that first stint went in the major leagues and how he’s adjusted since he’s been there. And that’s probably the most important thing. He’s very flashy, he’s very flairy, which is great, is exciting, is attention grabbing. But his skill work and his talent is really what shines through, and he’s just a wonderful player and tough out.”

Though he paused, seemingly to take in the fact that Lester had such high praise for him, Baez himself said comparisons don’t mean much. It’s not a surprise from someone who has established himself as a unique talent not just in the current generation of ballplayers but perhaps throughout the game’s history.

“There’s a lot of comparisons with me. I just try to be myself, to be honest, out there, off the field, too,” Baez said. “There’s a lot of people who are scared to be them. I play the way I play because I do me. I do it the way I think. … I’m not trying to show anybody up. That’s the way I play, just me being me and trying to do the best for my teammates.”

The numbers and the highlight-reel plays have thrust Baez into the realm of baseball’s very best. His inclusion in the All-Star Game isn’t a surprise, it’s a necessity.

Baez said he’s hoping to learn a lot from this experience, and Lester, at his fifth All-Star Game, said the lesson should be a simple but important one.

“The biggest thing is — when I got my first All-Star Game, it makes you feel like you belong. It’s like, ‘I am pretty good,’” Lester said. “So I think to get rewarded for your hard work, to get to be able to do this, I think it’s kind of like the little pat on the back. Like, ‘Hey, good job.’ For me, it was like, ‘Maybe I am pretty good.’ It was like the big, eye-opening thing for me the first time I got to do this.

“Hopefully they (Baez and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras) see that, hopefully they feel like they are two of the best in the game and that just carries over to their game.”