Milwaukee Brewers

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

The Brewers look like they're ready to go all-in this trade deadline

The Brewers look like they're ready to go all-in this trade deadline

The Cubs woke up Wednesday morning 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

Sure, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic that the Cubs can overtake the Brew Crew in the division for the second straight summer, but it's not a guarantee Milwaukee fades in the second half again.

Especially if they go all-in before the July trade deadline.

A rumor from Jim Bowden popped up Wednsday morning indicating the Brewers could give up a huge group of guys to Baltimore for Manny Machado:

That is a RIDICULOUS package if true. Burnes is Milwaukee's top pitching prospect (No. 2 prospect overall, according to MLB.com), Broxton is a 28-year-old outfielder with extensive MLB experience and a 20-20 season under his belt (2017) before getting caught up in the numbers game in the outfield and Arcia is a stellar defensive shortstop who won't turn 24 until next month and was the organization's top prospect a couple years ago.

All for less than half a season of Machado? 

Adding Machado to a lineup that already features Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar and Ryan Braun is enticing from the Brewers' end, sure, but is all that really worth it?

Cubs fans balked at trying to give up Addison Russell in any deal for Machado. Arcia may not be as established as Russell, but he's younger, under team control for longer (won't become a free agent until after the 2022 season) and just put up a .731 OPS with 15 homers and 14 steals last season. He's taken a step back offensively this year, but it seems unwise to give up on a guy with only 274 big-league games under his belt.

Still, that's exactly the kind of package Cubs fans would hope the Brewers would give up — hurting the long-term hopes of the franchise while trying to go all-in for this season.

But Jon Heyman threw some cold water on that rumored three-player package Wednesday afternoon:

Still, the existence of the rumor is just another nod to the Brewers going all-in.

In a matter of hours over the winter, they signed Cain to a 5-year, $80 million deal and traded for Yelich, greatly improving the top of the lineup, the outfield defense and the clubhouse in the process.

And if the Brewers can't get Machado, there are plenty of other candidates out there who could be nice additions to Milwaukee's playoff run:

Both Escobar and Dozier are set to become free agents in November and the Twins certainly don't look like they're going to make a run at the AL Wild Card anytime soon. 

Escobar leads the league with 35 doubles and is posting a career-high .853 OPS as a switch-hitter who can play all over the infield. Dozier is in the midst of the worst season of his career, but started slow last year, too, before going on a blistering pace after the All-Star Break (.304 AVG, .985 OPS, 21 HR, 52 RBI, 67 R in 71 G).

Both players should be available at a much, much cheaper price than Machado and would still help boost Milwaukee's squad.

Keep in mind this latest round of Brewers trade rumors are all about position players and doesn't even address the team's biggest weakness: Starting pitching.

The Brewers have the clout in the farm system to acquire a guy like Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard if the Mets put either of their aces on the block. 

No matter what way you look at it, the Brewers aren't going to back down anytime soon as the Cubs continue to try to find their stride in 2018.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."