Cubs

Why Cubs sat Jason Heyward against Madison Bumgarner and how Joe Maddon still sees more offensive potential

Why Cubs sat Jason Heyward against Madison Bumgarner and how Joe Maddon still sees more offensive potential

SAN FRANCISCO – Sacrificing defense for offense – in a spacious ballpark built for run prevention and against one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time – the Cubs benched $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward.

With the chance to end this National League Division Series on Monday night at AT&T Park, manager Joe Maddon sat the Gold Glove defender and started Jorge Soler (left field) and Ben Zobrist (right field) against legendary San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner.

The addition of Heyward – and his presence for the pitching staff, on the bases and in the clubhouse – helps explain why the Cubs won 103 games and led the majors in defensive efficiency. But Year 1 of that megadeal has been a massive disappointment from an offensive perspective, with the left-handed hitter batting .230 and posting career-lows in homers (seven) and OPS (.631).     

“With a player like him, just be patient,” Maddon said before Game 3 of this best-of-five series. “In some ways, it’s not unlike Jon Lester. He got off to a tough start last year, but he did come on at the end of the year. To a certain extent, I think the same thing has happened with Jason.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be in that particular position regarding that kind of a free-agent moment, getting that kind of attention. Getting to know him, I think he will process the winter properly. If there are any adjustments to be made mechanically or physically, he has time to do it without any games getting in the way.

“You need an adjustment time. I just have a lot of faith in him. Beyond that, he still has been a very productive player for us. And I don’t like him not starting tonight, just based on his glove. But we’re going to give it a go.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Injuries and inconsistencies have marked Soler’s career, but he’s a powerful right-handed presence, someone who turned it on during last year’s playoffs, putting up a 1.705 OPS in seven games. The Cubs need to keep Soler involved if they want him to be a sharp, dangerous pinch-hitter in October.

Maddon had already decided on another left-handed hitter in Miguel Montero, believing the veteran catcher could draw the most out of Jake Arrieta and help guide the Cy Young Award winner through the San Francisco lineup. So the outfield decision, in essence, came down to either Soler or Willson Contreras, with Heyward more of an afterthought in the Bumgarner discussions.

“Soler is the better guess for possibly putting the ball in the seats,” Maddon said. “Defensively, of course, that’s something I don’t like to do – to not have your best defensive team on the field. But if we were able to grab a lead, there are things we can do in the latter part of the game.”

Lester admitted he pressed and initially felt the weight of that $155 million contract, but he still became a huge part of last year’s 97-win team and a Cy Young Award contender this season. Heyward got paid like a middle-of-the-order hitter, even though he had only one season on his resume with more than 20 homers and 80 RBI. The Cubs invested in the defense, a patient approach at the plate, his intangibles and under-30 upside. 

“I really do believe you’re going to see a big jump in his offense next year,” Maddon said. “He’s going to have time to make the adjustments. He’s going to have time to think things through. He’s going to be more comfortable here next year. And for all those different reasons, I think you’re going to see more.”

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair