New spot, same Javy: Baez brings leadoff flair
Batting No. 1 for 1st time this season, infielder triples in 1st, dazzles on basepaths
CHICAGO -- Javier Baez can't explain how he makes that swim move when he slides into second base to avoid a tag. It's part of the magic of Javy.
Baez became the sixth player to lead off this season for the Cubs, and he provided a spark with a leadoff triple on Saturday in an 8-4 victory over the White Sox at Wrigley Field.
Baez also showed off his moves in the second. He reached on an infield single to open the inning, and one out later, he stole second, somehow reaching around the bag to avoid White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson's tag.
"I was surprised [catcher Welington Castillo] saw me," Baez said. "I went on delay, and they usually don't see me until it's too late. I guess they did their homework. They have my plan.
"I don't know how to explain it. When [Anderson] caught the ball, everything slowed down for me. That's how I see it. I just went around the tag. I don't know how I do it, I don't know how I react to it. I just have it in my mind."
After Anthony Rizzo walked, Baez then tallied on Willson Contreras' single to center while also avoiding a tag at home plate.
Cubs pitcher Jonathan Lester has seen plenty of Baez highlights.
"David [Ortiz] was a superstar, and there was a reason why he was," Lester said. "Javy, I think, can be there one day. He has the flair, he knows the game better than a lot of guys give him credit for. He's just so smart and so athletic that he can make up for mistakes. That's where you see the swim move today and running the bases. The game just looks easy to him. He has the potential to be that guy."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to compare Baez to an NBA point guard.
"You've got to keep your eye on him," Maddon said. "He's Tiny Archibald, Norm Van Lier. You've got to watch [Baez]. He could have that impact anywhere -- in the box, running the bases, making a tag, making a play, catching a popup in the dugout and smiling for the cameras, he does it. He's just on cue all the time."
Maddon admits Baez isn't a prototypical player for the leadoff spot. Rizzo and Contreras also have been inserted there this season. Has the concept changed?
"I think it has something to do with the lack of leadoff hitters -- the prototypical guy who really runs well, gets on base a lot and has a little bit of pop," Maddon said Saturday. "We had it with Dexter [Fowler]. Dex provided all that. But you look around and there aren't a lot of those guys out there, that scary first guy."
Maddon is looking for energy as well as the ability to get on base from the No. 1 batter.
"You're looking for a guy who, even when he's not hitting well, can still get on base somehow," Maddon said. "That doesn't happen as often. Barry Bonds would be a perfect leadoff hitter, because they used to walk him all the time anyway. He'd be the perfect example of somebody where you would hit the pitcher eighth and get somebody ahead of him who gets on base. The attitudes have changed."
Benjamin Zobrist will likely wind up with the most at-bats at the top of the order, Maddon said.
"In a perfect world for us, when Zo's available and I want to play him, and he's hitting left-handed, I think he's the right guy," Maddon said.