Addison Russell

David Bote's neverending game of chess

David Bote's neverending game of chess

David Bote feels like he's in a neverending game of chess.

He's been so ingrained in the Cubs conversation the last two years that it's easy to forget this is his first full big-league season and he's still learning the ropes.

Bote is now nationally known thanks to the ultimate grand slam he hit last August, but he's not hanging his hat on that one accomplishment and has found a way to conjure up some staying power in the majors. He's a former 18th-round draft pick who never found his name on top prospect lists, yet signed a five-year, $15 million extension before even playing his first home game in 2019.

But Bote won't rest on his laurels with that contract extension, either. He knows he's in store for a constant battle.

"It's never ending," Bote said. "[The league] points out something that you do and you make an adjustment off it and then they make another adjustment off of you. It's just trying to stay with what you want to do and also try to stay in front of what they're trying to do at the same time."

Much like he did last year, Bote got out to a hot start this season but then eventually hit a rough pitch. 

After he had a tough series in Cincinnati in mid-May (he went 0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts), he found himself on the bench for back-to-back games while his season average dipped to .239 and OPS fell to .713.

But then he got the start at third base in Washington on May 18, hit a homer and hasn't looked back since.

From that game on, Bote has a 1.027 OPS while slashing .324/.378/.649 with 6 homers and 18 RBI in 19 starts.

The 26-year-old infielder has earned more playing time with his production, taking advantage of the respective offensive slumps from Addison Russell and Daniel Descalso. As the Cubs faced a tough righty in Lucas Giolito Wednesday night, it was Bote who found his name at second base and he responded with a homer off the American league ERA leader.

"He started out well, then he hit a little bit of a skid, which was good because he had some problems at the major-league level early in the season and he's overcome that already," Joe Maddon said earlier this month. "So you need to go through that adversity, too. My goodness, David's got a great head on his shoulders. He's a team-oriented player. 

"He's like any other young player — he's still working to really understand what's going on every day and understanding himself. But he does it in a very mature way. He's gonna keep getting better because he listens well, and I think he's getting to the point where he understands his strengths, which is really important. Just watch him — he's gonna continue to get better."

Bote doesn't feel like the neverending game of chess gets any easier, but at least now, he has a checklist he can go through to evaluate his mechanics or mental approach or whatever else may be slightly off. 

At the end of the day, it's all about confidence for Bote — as it is for every player in the big leagues.

"Whether you feel good or feel bad that day, it's trying to be as confident as you can and just letting your ability and your work before that take over," Bote said. "I'm not in the box thinking about my mechanics, but trying to trust that my BP and cage work and all that that takes over and you just go to battle.

"And if [you're still not feeling great], then you say, 'Screw it, I'll just go out there and battle today and get 'em tomorrow.' It's all fluid. It's all ever-changing."

How Cubs will manage the second base picture moving forward

How Cubs will manage the second base picture moving forward

Who should be the Cubs' everyday second baseman? 

It's a topic we've seen pop up every now and then throughout the first couple months of the 2019 season and it's a fair question/debate, but it misses the big picture — the 2019 Cubs probably won't ever have an everyday second baseman. Not with a roster packed with position player depth — even with Ben Zobrist still on personal leave and Ian Happ still working to make consistent offensive adjustments in Triple-A Iowa.

Early on, it looked like Daniel Descalso was emerging as the closest thing the Cubs would get to an everyday second baseman, as the veteran started 21 of the team's first 30 games at the No. 4 spot in the defensive alignment. But then Addison Russell returned from his suspension during the first week of May and Descalso started slumping right around the same time. 

Over the Cubs' last 34 games, Descalso has only drawn 13 starts at second base, with Russell and David Bote essentially splitting time at the position in that span.

Lately, it's been Bote, as Russell has been dealing with a right hand injury he suffered on a slide last Tuesday. When Russell was scratched with the hand issue Wednesday night, Bote was put into the starting lineup on short notice and delivered the historic night where he became the first Cubs second baseman to drive in 7 runs in a game since Ryne Sandberg in 1984.

Russell pinch-hit in the Cubs' win over the Cardinals Saturday and stayed in defensively for the last couple innings. But it was Bote again in the starting lineup for Sunday's homestand finale and delivered the game-winning hit in the fifth inning to break a 1-1 tie.

"Right now, you've seen primarily David and Addison," Joe Maddon said. "I just had a great conversation with Daniel. Daniel's stll working on some things offensively, too. And as he really gets back to where he had been, I'm really eager to get him out there 'cause this guy's a very good offensive player. 

"When Addison's well, I really like that a lot — him and Javy [Baez] up the middle is very intriguing [defensively]. So as he's ready to roll, you'll probably see more of that and then Bote at third and pop [Kris Bryant] back in the outfield. Although KB's playing a really good third base this year — as good as I've seen him."

Maddon acknowledged all the options and depth at his disposal, even without Zobrist and Happ — who were probably the Cubs' two most versatile players on the roster the last couple seasons. 

The trick is just finding somewhat consistent time for each guy to get out there and see regular at-bats. 

That's been even more challenging for Maddon lately, as Descalso's slump continues. He was one of the Cubs' best clutch hitters to begin the year, but since the calendar flipped to May, the 32-year-old veteran is slashing just .103/.209/.138 (.347 OPS) with only 1 extra-base hit and 3 RBI in 29 games. He also has struck out nearly a third of the time (20 whiffs in 68 plate appearances). 

Descalso confirmed he is working on some specific mechanical changes right now, but said it's "nothing crazy."

"I don't want to overhaul [my swing] during the season, but just make some adjustments," he said. "Teams are pitching me a little differently. It's a game of adjustments — they're gonna adjust to you and my job is to adjust back. It hasn't been as smooth as I would like, but just staying the course — out there, trying to have good at-bats, swing at good pitches and hopefully get back on the right track."

He doesn't rate highly in defensive metrics, so if Descalso isn't hitting, it's tough to make the case that he should be playing more over Bote and Russell — who are both better defensively and have been solid offensively. 

The Cubs also haven't utilized Descalso as a utility player this season. He played four positions with the Diamondbacks last year and has seen substantial time at third base, shortstop, first base and left field throughout his big-league career. However, he's almost exclusively been a second baseman with the Cubs, seeing only 1 game at any other spot (2.1 innings at third base).

"I know I haven't been swinging the bat well," Descalso said. "You want to get a hit every time, but sometimes you gotta go with baby steps. Just trying to not make it bigger than it is and keep it simple."

In general, the Cubs need more offensive production out of that position, as the second basemen have combined to hit just .205/.284/.328 (.612 OPS) this season — which ranks last on the team in every category by a wide margin. The Cubs also rank 26th in baseball in second basemen OPS.

Bote's big night Wednesday helped boost those numbers up, but even with that game, he is still hitting only .241 with a .721 OPS while playing second base. 

He's done most of his damage this season as a third baseman (.278 AVG, .863 OPS) and entered play Sunday with almost twice the total offensive value (1.1 WAR) he had all of last season (0.6 WAR).

"He started out well, then he hit a little bit of a skid, which was good because he had some problems at the major-league level early in the season and he's overcome that already," Maddon said. "So you need to go through that adversity, too. My goodness, David's got a great head on his shoulders. He's a team-oriented player. 

"He's like any other young player — he's still working to really understand what's going on every day and understanding himself. But he does it in a very mature way. He's gonna keep getting better. He is. Because he listens well and I think he's getting to the point where he understands his strengths, which is really important. Just watch him — he's gonna continue to get better."

Lingering heel issue knocks Javy Baez out of Cubs lineup

Lingering heel issue knocks Javy Baez out of Cubs lineup

ST. LOUIS - The Cubs will be without Javy Baez for at least the start of Saturday's game as he continues to be plagued by a right heel issue suffered nearly two weeks ago during a game in Washington D.C.

Baez was initially in the Cubs lineup for Saturday's tilt against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, but was scratched roughly 90 minutes before first pitch.

"For him to say something, it had to be pretty sore," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't know [how long he'll be out]. I was just ready to come out on the field and he came and talked to me. Definitely a day-by-day situation."

The concern with the heel issue is not only that it hasn't gone away in two weeks, but that it is acting up just one game after the Cubs had an off-day and spent the entire week working to get Baez back to 100 percent health.

During the series in Houston, Baez served as the Cubs' designated hitter in the first two games, which helped keep him off his feet while still maintaining his offensive presence in the lineup. Then he played third base for the series finale Wednesday in an effort to limit his movement in the field, as the hot corner is not as physically demanding as shortstop.

The Cubs then had a day off Thursday before Friday night's game, when Baez played all 10 innings at shortstop.

The lingering injury comes at a bad time for Baez and the Cubs, as they have just one day off between Friday and July 5, playing 34 games in 35 days in that span. So there won't be much opportunity for rest unless he continues to miss game action.

"It has [lingered]," Maddon said. "When he's feeling good again, we might have to figure out a way also again to put him in a spot he doesn't have to move as much and see how that plays out. You know him - if he's gonna say something, it's bothering him decently right now."

The injury flares up for Baez mostly when he's on defense, moving laterally at shortstop and working around the second base bag on double plays and force plays. That's why third base was a better option for him and with Addison Russell on the active roster now to play shortstop, Maddon was alluding to the possibility of Baez eventually returning to the lineup, but maybe not at shortstop.

Russell was initially given the day off Saturday, but inserted into the lineup to play shortstop with Baez's departure. David Bote remains as third in line on the shortstop depth chart.

"[Movement] is cut down [at third base], plus he doesn't have to hit the bag as much like working through the bag and turning double plays," Maddon said. "Maybe that's where he kinda tweaked it after it was starting to feel better. After a double play ball, he kinda kicked the bag funny and that kinda reaggravated it.

"Just see what happens - talk to the trainers, talk to him and then create a gameplan coming out of it."

The Cubs have dropped six of their last eight games and absolutely don't want to go any extended length of time without one of their best players. But Baez has also been scuffling since he suffered the injury - hitting only .222 with a .717 OPS and striking out in half his at-bats (18-of-36) - though Maddon insisted the heel issue hasn't had much of an impact on the offensive part of Baez’s game.

Before Saturday's game, it was unknown whether Baez would be available to pinch-hit, like he did a couple days after suffering the initial injury - delivering the walk-off blow to the Phillies on May 21 at Wrigley Field.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.