Javier Baez – .267, 10 home runs, 36 RBI
Javier Baez’s MVP caliber performance this April was the inspiration for this post. I did not see this coming. Baez started this season by going 0-10. When he finally got his first hit in his eleventh at-bat, he jokingly asked for the ball as if it was a momentous occasion. Shortly after that Maddon began moving Baez up in the lineup.
Rizzo got off to a slow start. Then Zobrist and Rizzo both took trips to the disabled list. Then Bryant missed a few games after getting hit by a pitch that spun his helmet off his head. During this time Baez carried the Cubs offense. At times he hit in front of Bryant or Rizzo, and at other times he served as their protection in the lineup.
We all know that El Mago can be an incredible player. His defensive plays, his baserunning instincts, his lightning-quick tags, his magical slides that avoid tags are all part of what makes him such a fun player to watch. But we’ve been here before with Baez’s bat, such as when he shared the 2016 NLCS MVP honors with Jon Lester.
However, I got the sense during this most recent hot streak that Baez made a significant jump as a hitter. His success this time was over a sustained period. He was hitting the ball the other way a lot. He was hitting breaking pitches much better than he used. And Baez was not chasing nearly as many pitches out of the strike zone.