Javier Baez itching to contribute as he makes his return to Cubs

Javier Baez itching to contribute as he makes his return to Cubs

Not much has gone smoothly in Javy Baez's big-league career.

He struck out almost half the time and hit just .169 during his rookie season in 2014 and then wasn't called up to Chicago until Sept. 1 last season after dealing with the loss of his sister and spending time in the minor leagues. 

Baez was slated to start the 2016 campaign on the major-league roster, but a thumb injury derailed hopes of that.

He's back now, reporting to Wrigley Field Friday before the Cubs' three-game series against the Colorado Rockies.

"These last couple years have been up and down," Baez said. "Hopefully this year, with everything that I've learned, I'll get everything together and have a good year."

Baez has never played in Chicago before August and even though he missed another Opening Day, the 23-year-old is ready to hit the ground running on a team that started out 8-1.

His excitement to be back and healthy was palpable as he walked into the Cubs' sparkling new clubhouse Friday morning, hugging teammates and getting his locker squared away.

Baez was ready to be a super-utility guy for Joe Maddon's squad in spring training and that plan hasn't been altered. On his rehab stint in the minors, Baez played mostly left field and third base, but he also represents the backup option for Addison Russell at shortstop and Ben Zobrist at second base.

Baez is also the likely backup first baseman and got some experience in center over the winter and early in spring.

"You'll see him all over the map," Maddon said. "He's gotten all his work at all the different positions and will continue to do so."

While Baez wasn't in the starting lineup Friday, Maddon said he planned on getting him in the lineup soon - "A young guy like that, you can't sit too long."

Maddon has raved about Baez's baseball IQ since last spring, talking up the 23-year-old's speed and defensive ability. Even if he doesn't start in games, Baez could slot in as a defensive replacement, pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

"I'll be ready to come in the game late or at the beginning," Baez said. "I came here to have fun and to play."

The Cubs had a roster conundrum in the spring after re-signing Dexter Fowler. That move left Baez and Jorge Soler without a definitive role, but as Maddon predicted, things took care of themselves a bit with Baez's early thumb issue and then Kyle Schwarber's season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season.

Still, Maddon has his work cut out for him to try to find a way to get Baez, Soler, Matt Szczur and Tommy La Stella enough at-bats to stay sharp.

"We have so much versatility on that bench," Maddon said. "...There's so many moving parts right now. All these guys are really viable, so I just gotta try and get them all invovled."

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.