Cubs

Is Jon Jay the answer to the Cubs' leadoff woes?

Is Jon Jay the answer to the Cubs' leadoff woes?

Offensive issues have plagued the Cubs all season and Joe Maddon's solution to the problem might already be in the clubhouse.

For now, at least.

Maddon wrote out the Cubs' lineup for the second straight day with Jon Jay atop the order, this time against Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom:

Both Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ — who have combined to fill the role of leadoff hitter for much of the season — remain on the bench. It's Schwarber's second straight day off and Happ's third.

Jay ignited an immediate — and much-needed — rally for the Cubs in the first inning Sunday, leading off with a single and scoring two batters later on Anthony Rizzo's double. Jay later added a double and is hitting .298 with a .383 on-base percentage on the season.

The 32-year-old veteran has plenty of experience leading off dating back to his days with the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a .280 average and .342 OBP in 179 starts at that spot.

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The Cubs enter the series with the Mets 31-31 and despite a dip in pitching and defense compared to a year ago, Maddon pointed to the team's inconsistent offense as the major issue this season.

The leadoff spot is a huge reason why.

Out of 30 MLB teams, Cubs leadoff hitters rank 24th in runs scored (34), seven below the league average. That's a far cry from 2016 (ranked fifth) and 2015 (third) when Dexter Fowler was the team's primary tablesetter.

The 2017 Cubs rank 28th with a .212 average out of the top spot, 38 points below the NL average (.260). They come in at 24th with a .311 OBP.

Jay may be the best fit for the leadoff position on the Cubs' current 25-man roster, but he's also probably only a short-term solution. It's hard to envision a scenario in which he continually steals starts away from Happ and/or Schwarber if both young hitters remain in the big leagues.

Schwarber is still only hitting .171 on the season, but he hit a couple big homers on the Cubs' recent homestand and is walking at an elite rate (13.7 percent of the time).

Happ is currently mired in an 0-for-12 slump with six strikeouts in that span. His average is down to .207 and OPS at .784 after a blazing-hot start to his big-league career.

Ben Zobrist would be another potential leadoff option, but Maddon likes him providing protection to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo (which Zobrist did to perfection Sunday with a three-run homer in the first inning).

Maddon also likes employing Jay as a "sixth man," coming off the bench at the most opportune time in the game.

But for right now, at least, it appears Jay's biggest impact on the Cubs is taking his professional at-bats out of the leadoff spot.

How the Cubs, John Backer, are navigating the mental challenges of 2020

How the Cubs, John Backer, are navigating the mental challenges of 2020

The Cubs have spent months fortifying Wrigley Field against the outside world.

It’s supposed to be somewhere they feel safe, from the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, record unemployment rates. Even just for a few hours.

But even Wrigley’s ivy-covered walls aren’t impenetrable.

“I just feel like every day there’s something new,” Cubs manager David Ross said on Monday. “And I hope … our world gets back to being better in so many ways: health, society, emotionally, trying to get back to loving one another as best we can, as human beings.”

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The Cubs anticipated that mental health would be especially important this season and gave mental skills coach John Baker Tier 1 access. That way MLB’s health and safety protocols wouldn’t limit his in-person conversations with players and coaches.

“I think he’s handing it great,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I think he deserves credit, and so do the players for being there for each other and be willing to talk about the challenges we all face and anxieties we all face.”

As people across the country have experienced, those anxieties are ever-mounting and ever-present.

At work, the Cubs are risking their health – and the health of those who live with them – to make a living and play a game they love. And hopefully provide fans with “levity and distraction,” as Hoyer put it.

Pregame interviews never conclude without a mention of the coronavirus. There’s always some sort of news between the Marlins’ and Cardinals’ outbreaks, commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments, and other teams violating protocols.

Then, at home their escapes are limited.

“This is a hard sport and it's a sport of failure,” Hoyer said, “and you want to be able to have some levity in your life that isn't this job of failure. And I think that not having that I think has created player health issues and we haven't had before.”

So, the Cubs built a little levity into their practice on Monday. The Cubs hadn't played a game in four days because their weekend series at St. Louis was postponed after the Cardinals had three more positive test. On Monday, Ross and his coaching staff put on a  “fun” competition, involving obstacles and target practice.

“I thought the way Rossy and the coaches and the players handled this break right now has been perfect,” Hoyer said. “I think they realize that in 2020 there's going to be strange things happen. You're going to have  breaks, and you're going to have doubleheaders, and there's nothing you can do about those things. You just have to roll with the punches, and you can't be upset by them.”

Next, they head to Cleveland to play a team that just had players violate protocol while in Chicago to play the White Sox.

Zach Plesac apologized for leaving the team hotel to go out, and he traveled back to Cleveland via car service to remain separated from the team in case of infection. But Mike Clevenger, who ESPN reported went out with Plesac, flew home with the team. He will be quarantined instead of starting against the Cubs on Tuesday.

Another anxiety to face.  

“How do I keep these guys in the moment?” Baker said. “They do it themselves. We have players that love playing baseball. I see it in the smiles on the faces now that they’re back on the field.”

That’s how they fortified Wrigley Field.

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Cubs' Javier Báez, wife Irmarie are expecting a second child

Cubs' Javier Báez, wife Irmarie are expecting a second child

Cubs shortstop Javier Báez made a big announcement on Monday: he and his wife, Irmarie, are expecting a second child. 

Báez revealed the news in an adorable social media post with the help of his 2-year-old son, Adrian.

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Congrats to the Báez family!

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