We have begun to hear the chant “Javy! Javy! Javy!” for Javier Baez much more often at Wrigley Field this year, as the Cubs second baseman is off to a great start to his 2018 season.
Friday night, that chant came across loud and clear on the TV broadcast from Cubs fans at Coors Field in Denver. Baez had an outstanding night, homering, going 4-for-6, driving in four runs, playing his usual sparkling defense and taking third base in a daring running play that helped trigger a Cubs offensive explosion. The 16-5 Cubs win over the Rockies set season highs for the team in runs and hits on a chilly, rainy evening seemingly not suited for that kind of baseball.
One pitch into the game, Albert Almora Jr. was on first base with a leadoff infield single. Two pitches later, Javy did this:
That ball landed nearly in the same place where Baez hit his first big-league home run, in his very first major-league game in August 2014:
So the Cubs had a 2-0 lead. This did not last long. Two singles and a Nolan Arenado home run off Kyle Hendricks put the Rockies in the lead 3-2 by the end of the first inning.
The Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out in the third off Jon Gray, but were held to just one run, which scored when Anthony Rizzo hit into a double play. Not great, but at least the game was tied.
It got un-tied in the fifth. Javy doubled with one out, his third hit of the game in just five innings. Then this happened:
That was a pretty big risk on Javy’s part. Kris Bryant’s ball was sharply hit to Trevor Story and in general, runners who try to break from second to third on balls like that are out. But Story’s throw was a bit wide of third base and Baez, who has amazing baseball instincts, slid around the tag by Arenado. You can see both Baez and third-base coach Brian Butterfield immediately signal to the dugout to go to a review, and they were right. It didn’t take long for that overturn call to come.
So the Cubs now had runners on first and third. Rizzo grounded out, scoring Baez, and Arenado, who wasn’t having a good inning at all, committed a rare throwing error on a ground ball by Willson Contreras that scored Bryant.
That made it 5-3. Hendricks, who settled down after the rough first inning, completed five innings, with the three runs allowed, no walks and seven strikeouts. He was likely coming out of the game anyway, but wound up being pinch-hit for in the sixth... when the Cubs blew the game open.
Addison Russell singled and Jason Heyward tripled to begin the inning, making it 6-3, and Tommy La Stella, batting for Hendricks, walked. As a pinch-hitter, TLS is now 4-for-14 with two walks, a .429 OBP in that role. Singles by Almora and Baez (Javy’s fourth hit, following a wild pitch moving the runners up) made it 9-3.
But that was barely the beginning of the fun. Bryant doubled, and then Javy was out at the plate on a tag play with Rizzo batting. Contreras struck out for the second out of the inning, and that brought up Kyle Schwarber:
Schwarber’s blast, his fourth of the year, completed the seven-run inning. Kyle wound up with three hits on the night and four RBI.
Mike Montgomery replaced Hendricks and allowed a harmless run in three innings of work, and the Cubs weren’t done scoring runs. Three more scored in the eighth, with RBI from Contreras (double), Schwarber (ground out) and Heyward (single). Hey, look at that: another two-hit, two-RBI game from Heyward, who’s now hitting .246/.333/.404 and is tied for second on the team with 12 runs scored. Also, Heyward has struck out just seven times in 57 at-bats. The new hitting approach seems to be working.
The Cubs’ final run scored in the ninth. Almora led off with a double, his fourth hit of the game, making it the first four-hit game of his career. One out later, Bryant singled him in. Baez, who made that ninth-inning out, had three chances to hit for the cycle, having homered, doubled and singled. He came short of a cycle, but singled in one of those at-bats, giving him four hits for the fifth time in his career. Also:
Almora & Báez: first #Cubs 1-2 hitters with 4+ hits each since David DeJesus & Starlin Castro 6/23/2012— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 21, 2018
Another Javy fun fact:
Javier Báez: first #Cubs player with 20+ RBI in team's first 17 games of a season since Billy Williams (25) in 1970— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 21, 2018
I’m going to open the complaint department door just a tiny little bit regarding Justin Wilson, who threw the bottom of the ninth. He walked the first two hitters he faced and threw a wild pitch. I mean... this is being done with a 12-run lead. Throw strikes!
At last, he did, inducing a double-play grounder that scored the Rockies’ fifth run, and then Wilson struck out Chicago-area native (Fremd High School in Palatine) Mike Tauchman to end it. But seriously, Wilson still needs work on command and control. His walk rate this year (10.8 per nine innings) is even higher than the 9.7 he posted for the Cubs last year.
Now, shut that complaint department door closed tight! This was a great offensive display by the Cubs, and they put all these hits and runs on the board with Rizzo going 0-for-5. Just imagine how good this team will be when he starts hitting. And I can’t say enough about how well Baez is hitting. He does seem to be somewhat more selective at the plate and he’s also going with the pitch more. But don’t just take my word for it, take Joe Maddon’s:
“I like what he’s doing now,” said Maddon, who still was raving about Baez’s two opposite-field hits in an 8-5 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday. “When you’re driving that opposite-field gap, that’s really attractive. You can hit anybody when you’re doing that.”
In the past, Baez has shown brief signs of hitting to all fields, only to regress and swing and miss while trying to pull every pitch.
“(But) I haven’t seen one out-of-control swing in two to three games when he comes unglued,” Maddon said.
Great stuff. Baez has always had tremendous natural physical talent. Putting that all together and hitting the way he is now is wonderful to see.
Also, Almora had his second straight good game leading off, and with a lefthander going Saturday night, expect to see him in that lineup spot again.
A couple of brief criticisms of WGN’s TV broadcast: First, the scorebox was unreadable on one of my TVs, located way too close to the top of the screen. I checked it on another TV and it was readable, but still too close to the top of the frame. This wasn’t an issue with WGN’s scorebox previously, so it had to be something specific to this game broadcast. I hope they fix that before their next game (Tuesday in Cleveland). Also, whoever directed this broadcast spent way too much time using the camera behind the plate at field level to show plays in the infield, which is ... not optimal. It’s possible the “high home” camera was out of commission for a time and they used that because they had to, but otherwise that camera shouldn’t be used except for closeups of plays at the plate and at third base.
The Cubs go for their first three-game winning streak of 2018 Saturday evening in Denver. Yu Darvish goes for the Cubs and Tyler Anderson for the Rockies. Game time: 7:10 p.m. CT. TV: NBC Sports Chicago.