Baez deftly handling postseason playing time
Cubs shrugging off cold temperatures; Maddon discusses playoff format, first year in Chicago
NEW YORK -- Javier Baez made his third postseason start in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday, subbing for injured Addison Russell, and so far, the shortstop has handled the promotion.
"He looked really comfortable to me [Saturday]," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the rookie, who went 0-for-2 in the Cubs' 4-1 loss to the Mets on Sunday. "Talking to him before the game, I thought he was definitely in the flow, better than he was that one day coming off the bench [in Game 3 of the NL Division Series]. He knows he's going to play now, so there's a different method to get ready. His at-bats were good."
In early August, Maddon opted to move Russell to shortstop in place of Starlin Castro, who was benched before becoming the regular at second base. Is there a place on the Cubs for Baez?
"Of course, he's an everyday player," Maddon said. "This year was a tough year for him initially, based on his family situation and the injury, and he has really reacted perfectly to it."
Baez's 21-year-old sister, Noely, died in April, and then Baez missed time because of a fractured finger suffered on a slide.
• The game-time temperature on Saturday was 48 degrees, and it was expected to be colder on Sunday. Baez, Castro and Jorge Soler all wore balaclavas over their heads to try and stay warm.
"They were fine," Maddon said. "Starlin, before [Saturday's] game, told me he'll be cold when the game is over. He played really well. I talked to him on the bench, when I went out to the mound, and he was fine. He was not worried about it."
Soler hasn't done well when the temperature is below 50 degrees.
"It's going to be less than 50 today, so maybe it's a good call [Soler isn't starting]," Maddon said of the rookie, who was not in the starting lineup. "We'll keep him warm until we need him."
• Even though the Cubs had a better record than the Mets this season, New York has the home-field advantage in the NLCS. That's because Chicago earned its spot in the tournament as a Wild Card while the Mets won the NL East.
Predictably, that has raised the issue of whether the postseason participants should be reseeded as the postseason goes on. Maddon, while conceding that it would theoretically have given his team an edge this year, shrugged when asked about it before Game 2.
Noting that the three NL Central qualifiers -- Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs -- had the three best records in the league, the Cubs' manager admitted that created a "kind of awkward" situation. But don't look for him to lead the charge to change the rules.
"Regarding home-field advantage, I used to think it was such a big deal. But I don't see it as being as big of a deal as I had in the past," he said. "For me, the home field really comes down to the fans more than anything. For me, if you're going to talk about it, primarily it's about your fans more than anything.
"It's almost one of those things you may want to wait a little bit to see if there's any consistency over a couple years regarding that factor. So what I'm saying is that if they were to choose to do it, I'd be fine with it. If they choose not to, I'd also be fine with it. I think this may have been one of those anomaly years."
• Maddon is finishing his first year managing the Cubs. And the biggest difference from managing in Tampa Bay, he said, is that the primary focus of fans he's met this summer is on the franchise having not been to the World Series since 1945 and not won it since 1908.
"I live downtown and I walk around a lot and get in a lot of conversations. And you heard in the beginning a lot about how parents and grandparents never saw a World Series. And then it would always be followed by, 'No pressure,'" he said with a laugh.
"I've always enjoyed that conversation. I assured them absolutely there is none. I don't feel that but, hopefully for you, we'll be able to do this at some point. That's been the primary conversation, bringing up the past. The fact that we have not won the World Series in a long time. The people have been very, very open and kind and embracing. They really are Cubs fans. My goodness."
Beyond that, he said, the transition has been smooth. There is more traffic than there is in Tampa Bay, where he famously rode his bicycle to work. But he still bikes along Lake Michigan and enjoys the big-city vibe.
"And then, when I get to the ballpark, it's just baseball again," he said.