CHICAGO -- If one of the criteria for the Most Valuable Player Award is the one who drives in the most runs in his league, then Javier Baez is the man. But the best thing about Baez is that he dazzles in so many other ways.Baez kept his MVP-caliber campaign
CHICAGO -- If one of the criteria for the Most Valuable Player Award is the one who drives in the most runs in his league, then Javier Baez is the man. But the best thing about Baez is that he dazzles in so many other ways.
Baez kept his MVP-caliber campaign going on Friday afternoon, tying his career high with his 23rd home run and driving in his National League-leading 84th run, and Anthony Rizzo added a solo shot to spark the Cubs to a 5-4 victory over the Padres at Wrigley Field.
Baez hit an opposite-field shot leading off the second inning to match his previous season high of 23, set last year. He connected on a 3-1 fastball from Padres starter Tyson Ross and also tripled in the eighth and scored what turned out to be the game-winning run on Ian Happ's sacrifice fly.
"He's right at the top," Rizzo said of Baez as far as MVP consideration. "His numbers are very, very good and he's been very consistent. Offensively, defensively, the bases, he's a complete player. I'm sure other guys around the league are having tremendous years as well, but on a first-place team with a lot of expectations, he's carrying the load."
Baez made a smart defensive play in the Padres' eighth as well, throwing out Travis Jankowski at home.
"That's Javy being Javy," Cubs rookie third baseman David Bote said. "He read it, he saw that it was a line drive, saw that the guy on third froze. He noticed that and in a split second made the adjustment to go home, and [the runner] was out by eight feet. It wasn't even bang-bang. He saw it, he read it. I don't think he was pre-planning that. I think it was just him playing baseball.
"He has that thought in his head, 'If this happens, I'm going to do this, and if this happens, I'm going to do this.' It's special, the instincts he has, and the talent backs it up. He's one of those few guys who is fun to watch. It really is."
And how many times does Bote say, "That's Javy being Javy" during a game?
"A lot," Bote said, laughing. "That homer he hit to [the opposite field], the triple, the slide, the swim move, everything. Don't take it for granted. Enjoy what he brings to the field every day because it's fun to watch, it's fun to play with. Just sit back and enjoy it."
When asked about the play, Baez said he was focused on making a good throw. Maybe it's contagious, because Bote also made a perfect throw home for the second out in the ninth.
"Javy's game today was so complete," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the infielder, who is batting .407 with 10 RBIs in his past seven games. "Bote's game has been so complete. That's the thing -- too many times in our industry, we get hung up on offensive numbers, but we won the game on defense."
Just don't bring up the MVP talk around Baez.
"It makes me nervous, to be honest," Baez said. "I don't want to play with numbers. We'll see at the end. We'll see in September. When we get to September, it'll be about the playoffs. We'll see when the numbers come up. We'll see in the offseason what I get for this season."
Speaking of offense, Rizzo, who seems to be enjoying the leadoff spot, launched his 16th homer of the season into the basket rimming the outfield wall in right field with one out in the seventh for his third hit of the game.
Benjamin Zobrist, who has tapped into the fountain of youth, drove in two runs to back Jose Quintana, who struck out six over six innings. The Cubs are 4-0 in Quintana's last four starts at Wrigley Field. This was a huge improvement from the lefty's previous outing, when he threw 51 pitches in the first inning against the Cardinals. On Friday, Quintana went six innings, scattering four hits.
"Him and [catcher Victor] Caratini said, 'Seven,'" Maddon said of the battery's prediction on innings. "[Quintana] always has a good look, but today was more convicted. It's not complicated. When a pitcher pitches and throws his fastball with conviction, I think he can be pretty successful."
"The answer is throw strikes," Quintana said. "That's what I've done my whole career. First pitch for strikes, that's a big thing. Sometimes we try to be too fine, too perfect on the corners. That's what I learned -- try to get ahead quickly. That's what I did today."
Quintana notched his 10th win for the third consecutive season and he's the third left-hander in the NL to hit double-digit wins this season, joining teammate Jonathan Lester (12) and the Braves' Sean Newcomb (10).
The Cubs began the day with the best record in the NL, and they evened their record since the All-Star break at 8-8.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Stating their case: With one out in the Cubs' fifth, Thomas La Stella singled and reached third on Rizzo's single. Zobrist, who hit a sacrifice fly in the third, then hit a grounder to first baseman Eric Hosmer, who threw home. But La Stella avoided the tag and scored to open a 3-1 lead. Rizzo tried to advance to third while Padres catcher A.J. Ellis argued with home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth, but he was sent back. Both Chicago's Joe Maddon and San Diego's Andy Green separately argued with the umpires -- Green thought La Stella was out, Maddon thought Rizzo was safe at third. Neither manager won his argument.
Glove work: The Padres had two on, nobody out in the eighth against Steve Cishek, who got Manuel Margot to hit a comebacker to the pitcher. But Cishek threw the ball into center field and a run scored on the error. The runners moved up on a sacrifice before Baez handled Hunter Renfroe's grounder and threw out Jankowski trying to score at home. The Padres loaded the bases, and new reliever Brandon Kintzler got Christian Villanueva to line out to third baseman David Bote to end the inning.
"It was a hard line drive to me," Baez said of Renfroe's ball. "The guy on third kind of froze for a little bit. I saw it and decided to go to the plate. I just wanted to make a good throw. We had time to get him."
Rizzo now has 181 home runs with the Cubs, tied with Alfonso Soriano for 11th in franchise history. Rizzo's 181 homers are the third-most by a Cubs left-handed hitter behind Billy Williams (392) and Bill Nicholson (205). Rizzo also has four homers and six RBIs in his past eight games.
HE SAID IT
"There's times you want a guy to back off, I cannot disagree with that, but when you try to subtract instincts from a player as a coach, that's possibly the worst thing you can do. … I would not mess with that kid's head. He plays on the highest level mentally, and I would not want to mess with that." -- Maddon, when asked if he ever tries to rein in Baez
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Villanueva felt he was hit by a pitch in a 1-2 count against Quintana leading off the Padres' second. San Diego challenged the ruling and after a review, the call stood.
Renfroe was called safe leading off the Padres' fourth despite a strong relay throw from Rizzo to Quintana, who was covering at first. The Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned.
Kyle Hendricks will start in the third game of this four-game series. If he could get through the first inning without giving up a run, he'd be in good shape. In Hendricks' 22 starts so far, he's served up 21 runs and 10 home runs in the first inning. He did go seven innings in his last start, which was an improvement. The difference? He was more aggressive. The Padres will counter with Walker Lockett. First pitch from Wrigley Field is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.