I just want to make this absolutely clear to everyone: I love watching Javier Baez play.
His defensive wizardry is second to none. His baseball instincts, especially on the basepaths, are off the charts. He can make plays in both those areas that no other major leaguer would even attempt.
That early deficit was an “uh-oh” in the second inning. Jon Lester seemed to struggle with command early on, and after putting a pair of runners on base via single and walk, he served up a three-run homer to longtime Cubs nemesis Sean Rodriguez. Two more hits followed in that second inning; by the time the inning was over Lester had allowed four hits and a pair of walks combined in the first two innings and it seemed like it would be a long night.
Javy to the rescue! Ben Zobrist led off the bottom of the second with a bunt single. Remember when he did that in the 2016 NLCS to help galvanize a rally? It had a similar effect here. Addison Russell doubled and Victor Caratini was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A wild pitch by Steven Brault scored one run, and then up came Javy:
When life gives you a 3-1 fastball ... pic.twitter.com/xmLnVkNG7b— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 12, 2018
That ball: Crushed!
It landed just beneath the left-field video board. Incidentally, the Cubs have begun putting exit velocities and launch angles for Cubs home runs on the right-field video board, a nice touch. I’ll try to get a photo of this the next time they hit one. Perhaps Javy will help us out with that Thursday afternoon.
Lester managed to struggle through five innings; he allowed a pair of hits in the fifth to tie the game, and then the Pirates did something somewhat curious. With two out and nobody on in the top of the sixth and the pitcher’s spot due, Clint Hurdle let Brault bat for himself.
The game’s tied at this point. I suppose Hurdle didn’t want to burn a pinch-hitter there and Brault, in a small sample size, is a decent hitter (7-for-27 in the major leagues, 13-for-31 in five minor league seasons), and he had already had two hits in this game, but how long is that going to last from a pitcher? As it turned out, Brault hit a sinking liner on which Albert Almora Jr. made a nice catch to end the inning.
Hurdle then took Brault out of the game anyway after 94 pitches, and the Pirates bullpen proceeded to give the Cubs the game.
A dropped third strike on Baez led off the sixth, after which he advanced to second on an infield out and stole third. Tommy La Stella, batting for reliever Brian Duensing, bounced a ball that the Pirates infield couldn’t handle and Baez scored, giving the Cubs the lead. Almora singled, sending La Stella to second, and Kris Bryant doubled him in. One out later, Zobrist, who looks rejuvenated this year, singled in both Almora and Bryant for the Cubs’ second four-run inning of the night.
Yet another four-run inning was in store!
In the seventh, Caratini led off with a double. One out later, Jason Heyward singled in Caratini, and that brought up Ian Happ, batting for reliever Pedro Strop:
Happ’s two-run blast blew the game wide open at 11-4, and the Cubs added one more run that inning to make it three four-run innings on the night.
Javy wasn’t done, though. He batted against Pirates reliever Dovydas Neverauskas with two out in the eighth:
And that gave Javy a Cubs feat that hadn’t been done in nearly a decade:
Javier Báez: first #Cubs player with consecutive multi-HR games since Alfonso Soriano May 16-17, 2008— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 12, 2018
Nice work, Javy. I hope he stays a hot hitter, especially in this cold April weather. Baez now leads the Cubs with four homers and 10 RBI, and the power display has resulted in this odd slash line: .229/.372/.714. It wasn’t quite as cold as it was Opening Day; temperatures were in the upper 40s with little wind. A brief light rainshower passed through the Wrigley area for about 15-20 minutes in the third and fourth innings, not nearly hard enough to hold up play.
I should give some props to the Cubs bullpen, too, even though the eventual margin of victory was eight runs. Duensing, Strop and Eddie Butler threw four innings and allowed just one hit — a solo homer by David Freese off Butler with two out in the eighth. That’s forgivable when you’ve got an eight-run lead, I think. The Cubs bullpen has a 1.55 ERA and 0.928 WHIP so far this year: eight earned runs allowed in 40⅓ innings, with 16 walks and 47 strikeouts and just two home runs given up, including the one Wednesday night.
Props also to Bryant and Almora, both of whom had three-hit nights, and to Zobrist and Caratini, who joined Baez with two hits. No one around baseball is talking much about KB, but he is hitting .348/.464/.630 (16-for-46) with five doubles, a triple and two home runs. He’s walked eight times and struck out just seven, a nice start for the first 11 games.
The ballpark was surprisingly full given the weather and not-so-great forecast. Announced attendance was 35,596 and there were probably close to 30,000 in the park, though Wrigley did empty out after the seventh inning, not surprising on a work and school night.
One last Javy note: He and his longtime girlfriend Irmarie Marquez got engaged Wednesday, so congratulations to them! The couple is expecting their first child this summer.
She Said Yes! ♥️ Con La Ayuda De Dios, Con Los Pies En La Tierra y Mi Corazòn En Tus Manos Juntos Alcanzaremos Lo Que Tanto Hemos Ahnelado. El Tiempo De Dios Es Perfecto. No Puedo Esperar Pasar El Resto De Mi Vida Contigo. pic.twitter.com/Ier3Kk2Sae— Javier Báez (@javy23baez) April 11, 2018
The Cubs will try to meatloaf this series Thursday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs and Trevor Williams for the Pirates. Game time is 1:20 p.m. and TV coverage is via NBC Sports Chicago. The game preview will post here at 11:30 a.m.