A month into this short, pandemic baseball season, the impact of the surreal conditions might be starting to show up in performances.
Take Javy Báez (save the punchlines, Twitter).
“I’m not trying to suck,” said the Cubs’ struggling shortstop.
Báez broke out during the 2015 and ’16 postseasons, 2017 World Baseball Classic and as an All-Star starter at two positions in 2018-19 — with an MVP runner-up finish along the way.
But take the fans out of the stadium, and it works against a high-energy, big-moment, crowd-pleasing player such as Báez.
“For sure,” he said. “I get motivated from my fans.”
Without much more than piped in crowd noise with a few canned “Ja-vy, Ja-vy” chants, Báez is striking out 34 percent of the time this season — a rate he hasn’t approached since his rookie year — and he’s hitting just .198, even after a hit each of the first two games against the White Sox.
Think the lack of fans at Wrigley doesn’t make a difference? Báez is just 9-for-69 (.130) at home with one of his three homers — 10 for 27 (.370) with five extra-base hits on the road.
“I would say him as much as anybody,” Cubs manager David Ross said of the impact. “He is one of the most exciting players in the game, and it feels like he feeds off the energy of the fans and people and the moment. He seems to rise to the occasion, whether it’s a crazy slide or a big hit or a nice tag or the way he runs the bases — he can create havoc.
“I think the fans bring a lot of that to him. And that could be something that is affecting his game.”
Báez suggested he’s one of the Cubs hitters who might be pressing as he tries to make adjustments on the fly during a short season, even if some of the daily oddities of the COVID-19 season seem to impact him and others who feed off big crowds more than others.
“It’s really weird to be honest,” he said. “It’s not an excuse, because it’s the same for every team, but everybody’s different. Some of us like them; some don’t like having fans.
“We’ve got to deal with it.”
Báez seems optimistic he might be close doing that.
“Really close,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good these last two or three games.”