With each passing day, Javy Baez's case for National League Most Valubale Player picks up steam and seems more and more of a possibility.
"El Mago" woke up Thursday morning leading the NL in RBI and sixth in OPS.
He leads the Cubs in just about every offensive category — runs, hits (22 more than the next closest guy, Albert Almora Jr.), doubles, triples, homers, RBI, total bases, stolen bases, slugging percentage, OPS and WAR.
He's already set career highs in RBI, stolen bases, triples, doubles and extra-base hits and there are still two months left in the season. Over the next week or so, he will reach new career marks in hits, homers and runs.
Where would the Cubs be if you took Baez out of their lineup?
"Oh, don't do that," Joe Maddon joked with reporters prior to Thursday's 6-1 Cubs loss to the Padres.
Seriously, though, where would the Cubs be?
They currently have the best record in the NL despite Anthony Rizzo's up-and-down season, a year for Kris Bryant marred by a shoulder injury that has limited his effectiveness even when he's been on the field and Yu Darvish accounting for only 40 innings of subpar results.
Through it all, it's been Baez that has anchored this Cubs lineup on a daily basis despite just a .333 on-base percentage and 16 walks (6 of which were intentional).
"He's hitting fourth, he leads the league in RBI still, homers are good, he's using the whole field — that's the part that's making the on-base not as bothersome to me," Maddon said. "He still will strike out, but like [Wednesday], drew that walk. He went from 1-2 to 4-2, I think. Did not chase for that third strike.
"That part is maturing a bit. I think he can sustain this. He's playing with so much confidence right now."
Looking at the other top MVP candidates around the league right now, only Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter and Freddie Freeman have a higher WAR than Baez.
Baez is significantly better defensively than Freeman and Carpenter, two guys who spend a lot of time playing first base, where defense is not as important. Arenado is a fantastic defender, but Baez is a much better baserunner.
In fact, Baez rates as the fifth-most valuable runner in all of baseball, behind Jose Ramirez, Billy Hamilton, Eddie Rosario and Whit Merrifield.
"I know [J.D.] Martinez with the Red Sox is wonderful, but he does not provide on defense or the bases what Javy is able to provide," Maddon said. "So that's my point — don't just get locked into hitting all the time. It's a complete game."
Baez was already a household name around baseball prior to the 2018 season. Many knew him for his flair or easy smile on the baseball diamond. Or they saw his breakout performance in the Cubs' 2016 World Series run that saw him win a co-NLCS MVP.
Yet he still began this season hitting eighth in the Cubs lineup, a 25-year-old that still had quite a bit of developing to do as a hitter.
"He's come a long way this year," Maddon said. "He's getting close [to being the guy other teams gameplan around]. The reason why I'm saying that is, I know he's not chasing as much, but his confidence.
"I don't even know if he could be more confident than he is right now. That plays also. If you get to this tight moment, he believes he's gonna beat you somehow. That has nothing to do with numbers. That's what's in his heart. That's what's in his mind.
"His mind, on a baseball field, is truly artisitic. He does things and he sees things that most other guys do not. And furthermore, he's got the courage to do things. He's fearless.
"I still think he's like a year or two away from being this player that tears everything up. But for right now, he's trending in that direction. The way he's thinking is a difference-maker right now."