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Javy finds new way to jump-start Cubs

@MLBastian
September 22, 2020

Javier Báez bunted the ball into the perfect spot, sending it bouncing into no-man's land to the third-base side of the mound. Pirates pitcher JT Brubaker hustled after the roller, but it was too late by the time he got there. Báez reached with a single, Kyle Schwarber scored from

Javier Báez bunted the ball into the perfect spot, sending it bouncing into no-man's land to the third-base side of the mound. Pirates pitcher JT Brubaker hustled after the roller, but it was too late by the time he got there.

Báez reached with a single, Kyle Schwarber scored from third and the Cubs were on their way to a 5-0 win over the Pirates on Monday night at PNC Park. The victory pushed the National League Central-leading Cubs one step closer to officially punching their ticket to the postseason.

Box score

"Man," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I love that play."

The run-scoring hit by Báez -- one that helped support a strong outing by lefty Jon Lester -- offered another glimpse into the state of the Cubs' offense right now. Ross has recently started shuffling up his lineup, which has had Báez in the No. 7 slot for the past two days.

Kris Bryant, who was dropped to the fifth spot on Monday, exited the game in the third due to tightness in his lower right oblique. That was another blow for a Cubs lineup that is trying to find its footing over this final week, with the hope of hitting its stride by the time the playoffs arrive.

For most of this season, Ross has remained steady with the top and heart of his batting orders. The manager said the recent experimentation has been aimed at trying to get the offense to "flow" better with October looming.

Asked about the recent alterations, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Sunday that this was less about analytics and more about jump-starting the lineup.

"It's more just shaking it up to see if something clicks," Hoyer said. "I don't put much stock in some kind of new order of the same hitters is going to make a big difference, but sometimes it does and I think he's giving it a shot."

And Ross' players understand where the manager is coming from with the recent tweaks, given the collective struggles of the hitters.

"David Ross has got -- I can speak for the whole team -- he's got our undivided confidence and respect," Schwarber said. "We're going to do whatever he tells us to do. You know what? If there are lineup changes, whatever it is, we're going to roll with it."

So, with two outs -- two batters after Schwarber delivered a leadoff double -- Báez opted to square up rather than swing away, and it gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. That run snapped a 17-inning scoreless drought for the Cubs, who have had three droughts lasting 17 innings within the past dozen games.

"Smart baseball player," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "He's got no two-out bunt hits this year or two-out bunt attempts this year. He laid down a good bunt in a time that I don't think anybody thought he was going to bunt and executed. The kid's a smart baseball player."

Lester, who logged six shutout frames, brought up Báez's bunt unsolicited. The veteran pitcher raved about the surprise element, noting that it would be the kind of play that would cause a lot of frustration.

"Everybody knows what he can do offensively," Lester said. "But to catch them sleeping there? ... It'd frustrate me being on the mound right there. Hey, I've got Javy up with a guy on third and two outs and he lays down a perfect bunt. That's stealing a run right there."

The run also started what developed into a nice overall night for the offense.

Victor Caratini added a two-out RBI double in the fifth inning against Brubaker, who struck out nine over his 6 2/3 innings. Then with two outs the eighth, Willson Contreras worked a nine-pitch walk with two outs against Pirates rookie fireballer Blake Cederlind to set up another rally.

"To be able to fight for that walk," Schwarber said. "You feed off that at-bat. ... To see that guy go up there versus a tough righty, get that walk -- then you want to be able to capitalize on that."

Schwarber delivered a two-run double and David Bote added an RBI single off Cederlind, providing important insurance for the final frames.

That made for a nice overall showing for the offense, but everything could be traced back to Báez's bunt.

"We had discussed that earlier in the season," Ross said. "He knows he has that in his bag of tricks. And it was just nice to get us jump-started after [Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Twins] and kind of the lull on the homestand, and put some runs on the board early. It was nice for us."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.