Cubs

2019 top Cubs memories: Javier Báez is known as 'El Mago' for a reason

2019 top Cubs memories: Javier Báez is known as 'El Mago' for a reason

With the year coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is looking back on the top moments from the 2019 Cubs season.

They don’t call Javier Báez “El Mago” for nothing. Whether on the bases, in the field or at the plate, the Cubs shortstop seemingly makes a highlight reel play every game.

There are many phenomenal Báez plays to choose from, but here are some of the best ‘Javy being Javy’ moments from last season:

-Deking out the Dodgers: Báez reached deep into his magic hat on April 23 against the Dodgers. The 27-year-old hit a slow, soft-hit chopper to Dodgers first baseman David Freese, who fielded the ball falling to his left.

Freese had Báez dead to rights a few feet from first base, but Báez slammed on the brakes, making a quick juke move to his left to evade Freese’s tag. He dove into first safely, having pulled off an NFL-worthy move that left Freese bewildered.

-Smooth sliding: Even on a routine play, Báez finds a way to add his signature swag.

On May 9 vs. the Marlins, Báez advanced from first to third on a single into right field from Kyle Schwarber. He made it to third with ease but finished the play with an elegant, smooth slide into the bag.  

Is there any player more fun to watch than Báez?

-Keeping it 100 in the clutch: Báez picked a great moment to launch career home run No. 100.

On June 23, the Cubs trailed the Mets 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Báez stepped up with two runners on and one out, uncorking a three-run blast into right field, his 100th career long ball. The drive put the Cubs ahead 5-3 — the game’s final score — thanks to Báez's flair for the dramatic.

-Eyes in the back of his head: Báez and his patented lightning-quick tags on defense happen so frequently, they’re expected from him. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate those great plays when they happen.

On July 20, the Cubs led the Padres 6-5 in the ninth inning. Padres outfielder Wil Myers drew a leadoff walk off Craig Kimbrel, and after a failed bunt attempt for the first out, he took off for second base. Myers appeared to have the bag stolen, or so it appeared.

Báez ran to the first base side of second, catching the throw from catcher Victor Caratini and simultaneously swiping a quick, no-look tag at Myers’ left foot. Myers was ruled out on the field and after a Padres’ challenge, and the Cubs held on for the win.

Watch the video above to witness El Mago conduct his magic.

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How Cubs stack up, according to WAR, from 2015-19

How Cubs stack up, according to WAR, from 2015-19

The Cubs made the playoffs four times in five seasons under Joe Maddon, receiving contributions across the diamond from All-Stars and role players alike.

Some players, of course, had bigger impacts for Maddon's Cubs, even in smaller sample sizes. Jesse Chavez and Cole Hamels weren't Cubs for long, but the two 2018 trade deadline pickups helped the North Siders reach the postseason for a fourth straight year.

These are the top 25 players by WAR (wins above replacement) from the Maddon era, according to Baseball Reference.

Top 25 Cubs, according to WAR, from 2015-19

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How Ian Happ promotes mental health and other things to know about Cubs outfielder

How Ian Happ promotes mental health and other things to know about Cubs outfielder

It's kind of hard to believe 2020 is only Ian Happ's fourth season in the big leagues. The 25-year-old burst onto the scene with 24 home runs in 2017, and since has been through trials and tribulations, getting demoted to the minor leagues in 2019.

Whenever the 2020 season kicks off, Happ is in line for the starting center field job. Until then, here's a few things to know about him.

1. Happ attended University of Cincinnati from 2012-15, where he studied finance. He was a star on the field (2015 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year) and an exemplary student in the classroom (3.68 GPA, 2015 Academic All-American).

2. Happ is an avid golfer and is a 2 handicap, according to Golf Digest. He competed in the Straight Down Fall Classic in San Luis Obispo, Calif., the last two Novembers.

3. Happ serves as an honorary ambassador for First Tee Greater Chicago, which strives to introduce the game of golf to young people. The organization raised $23,000 at a January fundraiser Happ participated in.

4. In 2019, Happ and artist Patrick Vale started “Through My Eyes” — a three-piece artwork series capturing Wrigley Field from different perspectives. Proceeds go to the Happ Family Charitable Fund, which promotes mental health and wellness.

Happ lost his father, Keith, to brain cancer in 2015.

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