Chicago Cubs: Time for Javier Baez to make a quantum leap

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images /

Given that he is a contender for the National League MVP award, it is no secret that Javier Baez has also been the best player on this Chicago Cubs ball club.

Javier Baez has been the ultimate spark plug for the Chicago Cubs this season. His infectious energy and aggressiveness helped keep the team afloat amidst a swarm of injuries to the likes of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. But with the division on the line in the final weeks of the season, Baez has an opportunity to put a stamp on his MVP campaign.

The Cubs have one more series against each of their divisional foes, a trip to the West Coast to take on the Diamondbacks and a crosstown showdown with the White Sox left on the docket. With the pennant still on the line and the club coming off a mess of a series (in multiple senses of the word) against the Nationals, the performance of Chicago’s young star has the opportunity to reinvigorate a team that has had to grind in the trenches.

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It has hardly been a bad start to the month for Baez. After all, he is hitting .281 in September. But the 25-year-old has not yet had the kind of explosive output akin to what he did in July and August, when the Cubs began to gain control of the division. Baez has always been a free swinger, but before play began on Monday he had yet to draw a walk this month while already accumulating 13 punchouts.  After slugging .606 and .577 in July and August, he has totaled a .469 mark with a mediocre (by his standards) .750 OPS.

The good news is that Baez has torched fellow Central teams. Baez is hitting .320 in divisional play, with 14 homers and, 43 RBI and 10 stolen bases. The Cubs need to take as many games as they can in all three matchups with their division opponents, and given his statistical output against these teams, Baez seems primed for a big finale that could push the Cubs over the top.

According to FanGraphs, Baez’s 4.9 fWAR ranks fifth among NL positional players. The best way to cement his case for MVP over the likes of Christian Yelich, Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter is by closing the season with a flurry of offensive production to help lead the Cubs to their third consecutive NL Central crown.

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When the Cubs traded Starlin Castro prior to the 2016 season, they were banking on the continued development of Baez as a focal point in their young core. Now, with just weeks to play and the division on the line, it is time for Baez to take the next step in becoming a franchise player.