HOUSTON -- While the Cubs' impressive rotation gets a lot of rightful attention, infielder Javier Báez's emergence into one of baseball's premier defensive players has made the pitching staff's job much easier.
Baez, who started at shortstop Saturday afternoon against Houston, has flashed moments of pure brilliance lately on defense, making aggressive plays that result in crucial outs.
"I don't know if there's ever been a guy who can put a tag on a baserunner the way Javy does," pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "It's almost like as soon as the ball is near the baserunner, he's tagged. It's almost like second nature to him. It seems like it comes so naturally and so easy."
Another one of those moments came up in Friday night's 2-0 win over the Astros, when Baez made an impressive tag of Astros rookie Alex Bregman at third after a wild pitch, a play Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked only one other player, "Mr. September" Benji Gil, could make.
"[Gil was called that] because he always played his best baseball in September in order to make the salary push for Mexican League baseball," said Maddon -- a former coach and manager in the Angels' system -- as he reminisced about the former Angels utility man after Friday's game. "He would always do that, and by the time he got back to Mexico, they were always just salivating over him, and he makes some really good bread in October, November, December. ...
"Probably I've got to give the nod [defensively] to Javy, but not far behind is Mr. September."
Maddon said the thing that impresses him the most about Baez's fielding is his ability to stay calm and collected, even after making a mistake.
"He's just a different cat on defense, got a slow motor, and in a lot of ways, that's good. But then again, the energy of the play is high," Maddon said. "He's never in a hurry to throw the baseball. He'll make his mistakes now and then, we all do, but how he does it is just different."
Baez has 12 errors -- one behind All-Star Kris Bryant, who committed No. 13 in the Cubs' 2-1 loss to the Astros on Saturday -- having played first, second, third, shortstop and left field this season. But Maddon said he more than makes up for it with special plays that other players simply can't make.
"It's unfortunate that a player in his position cannot be considered for a Gold Glove, probably is not going to be, but he definitely deserves," Maddon said. "People will look at errors sometimes and determine, 'Oh, he's made too many errors.' I don't know how many errors he's made, but I know all the great things he's done well exceeds what he's done in a physical error situation."
"You respect what he's able to do, because you know how hard it is," Arrieta said. "I've tried to do things like that, and it doesn't look near as good."