Javier Baez showed off his full range of exciting tools in NLCS Game 5
If there were an award handed out to baseball's most exciting player, Javier Baez may very well take it home with a unanimous vote. Armed with tools that have tools, the player who loves baseball so much he has the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck seems to create at least one jaw-dropping moment in every game.
Whether it's with his powerful swing, his smooth glovework, his ability to drop a snap tag that moves through time rather than following its rules, he's the type of player you don't dare take your eyes off. The Dodgers learned that the hard way when he stole home in Game 1:
Even his amateur scouting report had him pegged as "fun to watch."
With the series tied at two games apiece before NLCS Game 5 on Thursday, Javier Baez made sure that the flight back to Chicago was a happy one as he collected three hits, stole a base and showed off more his highlight-reel defense in the Cubs' 8-4 victory over the Dodgers.
After doubling in the fourth, Baez singled in the sixth to kickstart the Cubs' two-run rally that saw them take a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish. Even his routine single to center saw the second baseman tear around first with his eyes on second, almost daring the Dodgers to show a moment of hesitation. (Of course, two pitches later, he would swipe second base, natch.)
Then, with the Cubs holding a 5-1 lead and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, Baez put an end to all things when he laced a bases-clearing double to extend the lead to an insurmountable seven runs.
For a player with an all-or-nothing swing, it should be noted that all three of his hits came on breaking balls on the outside part of the plate. That's right: Baez may be fast becoming a hitter you can't get out.
Of course, he was also a marvel in the field. When Adrian Gonzalez surprised everyone by trying to hit a bunt single, Baez made an incredibly smooth barehand pickup before firing an off-balance laser to nail Gonzalez. That arm looks more like a whip than an appendage with bones:
While Gonzalez is certainly not the fastest player in baseball, just look at how far down the line he was when Baez fielded the ball. Plenty of infielders would choose to just pocket the ball.
today's Javier Baez moment pic.twitter.com/nBSYjpfXzn- Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) October 21, 2016
After the game, manager Joe Maddon admitted he was in awe.
Jon Lester later added, "Usually when the ball's hit at Javy, I don't really worry too much."
Of course, perhaps the best illustration of Baez's ability to bring the sublime to every moment came in the fifth when he made a sliding stop against Joc Pederson. Not only did he show impressive instincts and range to corral the short-hop on Pederson's Statcast™-measured 110.5 mph liner, but even the utterly routine act of showing the umpire the ball in hopes of getting the call was smooth. His flourish with the ball is like a magician pulling out a bouquet of flowers from inside his shirt sleeve.
And then there are the plays that Baez isn't even involved in that he makes worth watching. Somehow, these may be the very best.
So how does it feel to watch Baez? Oh, probably a little like this GIF which features the full range of human emotions:
Baez and the Cubs will try to punch their ticket to the World Series when they face the Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Saturday. Tune in to watch on FS1 at 8 p.m. ET.