Chicago Cubs now indisputably belong to Javier Baez moving forward

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(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /
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The Chicago Cubs have endured a lot of turnover since their 2016 championship run. The biggest change? Javier Baez has taken over as the face of the franchise.

Javier Baez‘s importance to this Chicago Cubs team was never more evident than on Sunday night (although Tuesday night’s walk-off was pretty great, too). Baez showcased his other-worldly defensive wizardry with a bare-handed play on Nationals pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in the third inning. When Baez came up limp, it didn’t take long for his entire team to surround him, to check on the status of their star shortstop.

After Baez’s runner-up finish in last year’s National League MVP race, he hasn’t skipped a beat. In fact, he continues to improve. Baez has now assumed the mantle of everyday shortstop, and has seen an increase in offensive productivity thus far in the season.

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The Puerto Rican native is currently slashing .323/.362/.597 and is tied for the team lead with 11 home runs. If Baez keeps up this torrid pace, he will once agin be in the MVP conversation, and this time he’d have a good chance of winning the award.

Baez’s importance isn’t lost on any of his teammates. The Cubs ended up dodging a bullet, as the infielder only suffered a minor heel contusion on the aforementioned play. However, it was enough to keep him out of the starting lineup for a couple of days. Of course, he made a heroic return to action on Tuesday night.

Flair for the dramatic

To go along with his absurd defensive plays, and elite base running, Baez also tends to come through time and time again with the game on the line. Tuesday night was the latest example. Baez came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out in a 2-2 deadlock to pinch hit for Daniel Descalso. Doing his best Kirk Gibson impression, Baez limped to the plate while being serenaded by the Wrigley faithful with a familiar chant of “Javy!, Javy!, Javy!”.

It took Baez just one pitch from Phillies reliever Juan Nicasio to finish the ballgame, as he shot a line drive down the first base line.

"“I don’t even know what’s going on with him,” Kris Bryant told MLB.com. “It was awesome. He just goes up there and swings the bat — it’s like if he didn’t have to run to first base, he wouldn’t. It’s like [he says], ‘I’m so good, I’m just going to get this hit and we’re going to go home.’”"

Bryant, a former MVP himself, has seen Baez’s ascent first hand, and may now have to come to terms with the fact that this is El Mago’s team now. He has come a long way from the free-swinging kid who had to cut down on strikeouts before being taken seriously as a major league talent.

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Baez has now asserted himself as one of the most dangerous players in all of baseball, and the scariest part is that he still has room to improve. At 26 years of age, the Chicago Cubs have only just entered the Javier Baez era.

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