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'Baseball intellect' sets Baez apart

'He got a 1600 on his baseball SATs,' says manager Maddon
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

PHOENIX -- How smart is Javier Baez? He's baseball smart.

"It's hard to evaluate baseball intellect or acumen," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Baez, a candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. "He got a 1600 on his baseball SATs -- he definitely did."

PHOENIX -- How smart is Javier Baez? He's baseball smart.

"It's hard to evaluate baseball intellect or acumen," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Baez, a candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. "He got a 1600 on his baseball SATs -- he definitely did."

As the Cubs enjoy a day off Thursday before playing their final 10 regular-season games, Baez's intelligence on the field may be hard for some NL MVP Award voters to measure. All you have to do is watch him to see how he takes on the role of quarterback in the Cubs' infield, directing everyone -- and it doesn't matter if he's starting at second base, shortstop or third.

• National League statistical leaders

When Kris Bryant won the NL MVP Award in 2016, one of the qualities that impressed voters was his ability to move from third base to the outfield. Baez's versatility may help him garner more MVP votes, too.

Video: CHC@MIL: Baez sprints 29.3 ft/sec to score on single

"I know we would not be in this position without him," Maddon said about the Cubs, who boast the best record in the NL at 89-63. "He carried us for a while. [Bryant] got hurt, [Anthony Rizzo] had a slow start, and from the beginning of the year to the middle, Javy really did carry us. What you've seen in the last couple days, it's been picking up again and he's kind of catching his second wind. He's definitely a really strong MVP candidate."

• Baez's MVP case lies in extraordinary versatility

Baez leads the NL in RBIs (107), extra-base hits (79) and total bases (319), and he's tied for the lead with the Brewers' Christian Yelich in slugging percentage (.569). This season, Baez has set career highs in every offensive category, including home runs (33), doubles (37) and average (.294).

Tweet from @MLB: Will one of these Central studs take home the hardware? pic.twitter.com/i8jJZMnsxI

When Bryant won his NL MVP Award, he batted .292 and was third in the NL with 39 home runs and sixth with 102 RBIs, not far behind Rizzo, who drove in 109 that season.

Baez's strongest competition may come from Yelich, who leads the NL in batting at .319, boosted after he hit for the cycle for the second time this year on Monday against the Reds.

• Baez ranges all the way to center field to catch popup

Maddon hopes that NL MVP Award voters consider Baez as a player and highlight his defensive skills. He has started 75 games at second base, 41 at shortstop and 18 at third base. Baez would probably catch if asked to.

"Javy, this year, is the best second baseman in baseball, and he can play short and third," Maddon said. "I'm certain we can throw him in the outfield. He's Gold Glove caliber at any position he plays, and combine that with the power, the RBIs, the batting average.

Video: CIN@CHC: Baez throws home to cut down Suarez in 4th

"It's hard for anybody to match up with him, his overall skill set, his baserunning, arm strength, ability to throw off balance -- you just keep going down the list of things he can do that on other teams, maybe one guy can do one or two of these things but not anybody can do all of the things he can do," Maddon said. "He's just different."

Baez hears the "M-V-P" chants, which began as soon as he headed to the plate during the Cubs' series at Chase Field against the D-backs. He rewarded the fans by hitting a home run in each of the first two games.

"At first, I used to get nervous," Baez said about the chants. "With this year that I've been having, and the goals that I was looking forward to -- getting the Gold Glove and 30 homers and 100 RBIs -- [the chanting] kind of slowed me down a little bit. Now, when they're yelling 'M-V-P,' it doesn't speed me up like it used to do.

"I help my team a lot, and that's what counts, really."

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

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez