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Maddon: Baez's 'skills, acumen' set him apart

NL MVP Award candidate a clubhouse leader; Cubs hoping Strop will pitch in postseason; Wilson activated
September 28, 2018

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez may not lead the National League in all offensive categories, but he possesses a skill that, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has noticed, puts the infielder above others. Baez, one of the top NL Most Valuable Player Award candidates, is a leader on the field, no matter

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez may not lead the National League in all offensive categories, but he possesses a skill that, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has noticed, puts the infielder above others. Baez, one of the top NL Most Valuable Player Award candidates, is a leader on the field, no matter where he's playing.
"Leadership is normally taken as opposed to given," Maddon said Friday. "When it comes to a team situation like this, that leadership role is normally taken. There's a lot of respect going his direction from everybody else, first of all, because he's played as well as he has, but beyond that, the things he does.
"He's so in tune to the game itself, and other guys recognize that about him," Maddon said of Baez. "It's a combination of his skills and acumen on the field. You talk about a guy not being afraid -- all these factors are involved in him becoming this person this year and the fact that he's not afraid to voice his opinions in moments and situations."
Maddon said he notices it whenever he goes to the mound in-game to make a pitching change. Baez always has some nugget, some information that he wants to share with his teammates. Maddon and Baez have their own way of communicating during the game, too.

"He looks in all the time, and he's really good all the time about that," Maddon said. "He's very intuitive. Everybody recognizes that. It's a combination of the season that he's having, and his knowledge of the game exceeds most other people and he's not afraid to share it."
Baez entered Friday leading the NL with 111 RBIs, and he was second in extra-base hits (82) to the Rockies' Trevor Story and second in slugging percentage (.563) to the Brewers' Christian Yelich.
Maddon knows Baez hears the "M-V-P" chants from fans each at-bat.
"He's done a nice job of staying focused and centered," Maddon said. "It's probably difficult to not be thinking about that. But I also believe that 99 percent of his thoughts are about winning the division right now."
Worth noting
Pedro Strop (left hamstring) has thrown twice off a mound, but he most likely will not pitch in the Cubs' final regular-season games this weekend. The Cubs are hopeful that the right-hander will be available in the postseason.

"He's throwing [at] full strength," Maddon said. "He's not 100 percent comfortable on the landing yet. Overall, he's pretty darn close. He's further along than we anticipated at this point."
The Cubs don't want to push Strop to pitch this weekend and risk not having him available for the postseason, which could start Tuesday with the NL Wild Card Game or Thursday with the NL Division Series, depending on how the series with St. Louis goes.
• The Cubs activated catcher Bobby Wilson (sprained right ankle) from the disabled list. Wilson was acquired from the Twins on Aug. 30, and he has a career .208 batting average. He batted .178 in 47 games for Minnesota this season.

• Maddon gave the players his annual postseason speech prior to Thursday's 3-0 win over the Pirates. They did not spray champagne after Wednesday's game, when the Cubs secured a postseason berth, but Maddon acknowledged the team's successful run after Thursday's contest.
"We did do a little shot [Thursday] night after the game," Maddon said. "We had them all in the big circle in [the clubhouse], and I wanted to praise them and congratulate them for the work they've done. Winning the game [Thursday] night made the moment a little better."
Part of the reason for the delay was that Maddon wasn't aware the Cubs had clinched a postseason spot on Wednesday.
"A lot of guys were gone when I figured things out," Maddon said.
Will the Cubs celebrate at some point?
"That's what I'm hearing," Maddon said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.