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.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening


Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.