Javier Baez returns to Cubs with something to prove


Javier Baez returns to Cubs with something to prove

If the actual potential to make a difference matched the buzz on Twitter, Javier Baez would have already been here before this September call-up.

Baez has been compared to too many transcendent hitters over the years – Gary Sheffield! Manny Ramirez! Giancarlo Stanton! – that people have lost perspective. And the Cubs have been doing just fine – now 19 games over .500 – without Javy Being Javy.

In a season where the Cubs aggressively fast-tracked Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and accelerated their youth movement, Baez had to wait until the rosters expanded on Tuesday for his first at-bat at Wrigley Field.

“I’ve been watching all the good things that’s been happening here and trying to get my mind right to be here,” Baez said before a 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Baez is still a fascinating talent for Cubs fans and the Chicago media – and an intriguing player for Joe Maddon’s coaching staff and Theo Epstein’s front office.

“That kid’s going to be an All-Star,” said Ramirez, the hitting consultant who recently spent time with Baez at Triple-A Iowa. “You just got to be patient, like with anybody who comes up in the big leagues. It’s going to take some players time to adjust. Some of them take longer. Some of them are just faster.

“But above all, that kid can hit. He can run. He can field. I haven’t seen guys like that often. We’re just happy to have him, because he’s going to be a special player.”

[MORE: Schwarber finds his groove again as Cubs pull out much-needed win]

A crowd of 33,756 started cheering and clapping when Baez walked up to the plate in the second inning (and struck out swinging at Anthony DeSclafani’s slider).

Baez had a chance to break a tie game wipe open with two outs and runners on the corners in the sixth inning, but he hit a soft groundball up the first-base line. He also advanced a runner to third base with a flyball to the warning track in the eighth.

Maddon wouldn’t really say if Baez had a chance to become the everyday second baseman: “Yes and no. I’m going to try to utilize everybody.” The manager did double-switch Addison Russell out of the game and put Baez at shortstop. Baez said he even brought his outfielder’s glove “just in case.”

Back in spring training, Maddon thought the Cubs could carry Baez on the Opening Day roster because of his defense, speed and baseball IQ. Just when it looked like Baez might be playing his way into the team’s plans again, he fractured a finger while trying to steal a base in early June.

Physically, Baez looks much more like a streamlined middle infielder than the bulked-up player you saw last season.

Mentally, Baez is in a different place after taking an extended leave of absence following his sister’s death in April.

“It’s been a really tough year for me and my family,” Baez said. “That’s made me really patient.”

Baez said he got a different perspective while swinging with one hand during his time on the disabled list and the Cubs would love to unlock all that offensive potential.

“Javy’s put in a lot of work,” Epstein said. “He’s been really focused (on) keeping his approach under control, keeping his front foot down, limiting or even eliminating the leg kick.

“That’s been a process for him. It’s something that was gradual. He would embrace it, at times. Other times, he’d fall back into habits of a bigger leg kick and a bigger swing and a more violent approach. But gradually and over time, he’s become more consistent with it.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Baez has something to prove after striking out 95 times – with nine home runs – during last season’s 52-game audition.

Whether or not this is a new Javy – and there are times where it seems like the Cubs have a lot of voices around their hitters – Baez batted .324 with 13 homers, 61 RBI and a .911 OPS in 70 games for Iowa.

“It started to become second nature to him,” Epstein said. “When he can keep his front foot down and under control and limit that leg kick, everything gets more under control for him in the box.

“He tends to have a more reasonable swing, get better pitches to hit and it’s been really effective for him. He’s seeing results, too, which is huge.

“You can have coaches convince you something is the right way to approach a situation. But if you get results, that creates a real confidence that goes with it.

“We think he’s in a good place. He’s earned his way and worked his way into this position to come up and contribute to a winning team.”

Baez said he was so excited that he got to Wrigley Field around 1 p.m. for a 7:05 start.

“I think he’s ready,” Ramirez said. “Like everything in life, you’re going to go through some bumps, but you got to keep moving.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 26th + 27th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 26th + 27th homers 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.

Another day in June 1998, another multi-homer game for Sammy Sosa.

Slammin' Sammy connected twice off Carlton Loewer in the same game, a solo shot in the first inning and a 2-run shot int he fifth inning. Both were measured at 380 feet.

Still, the Cubs wound up losing the game 9-8 to the Phillies despite Sosa's effort and a total of 3 runs in the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings combined.

Fun fact: A big part of why the Cubs lost this game was Jose Hernandez's defense. He committed 3 errors at third base and shortstop that led to a pair of unearned runs.

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."