Báez benched, blames self as Cubs fall

June 22nd, 2021

CHICAGO – Cubs manager David Ross emphasized Monday night that benching Javier Báez was not about making an example of the star shortstop. The manager praised Báez for his hustle and leadership and skills on a baseball field.

Ross explained that his decision to pull Báez in the fourth inning of a 4-0 loss to Cleveland was less about the shortstop, specifically, and more about removing a player that seemed distracted. And right now, the Cubs can ill-afford such mental lapses as the club tries to regain the kind of rhythm that led it to the top of the National League Central.

“It did not feel good to take Javy out of the game,” Ross said. “I never feel comfortable doing that at all. That's a pit in my stomach and it was in my stomach the entire game.”

In the fourth inning, Báez ran from first to third on a routine flyout to left field off the bat of Anthony Rizzo. The issue was that there was only one out at the time. By the time left fielder Eddie Rosario made the catch, Báez was nearly to third base.

Báez threw his hands out to his side in frustration, while Cleveland's defense relayed the ball from left to first baseman Bobby Bradley. That finished off an unlikely double play to end the inning, leading to Báez's removal from the contest.

Báez admitted that he was “surprised” at being benched, but added that he respected Ross’ decision and said there were “no hard feelings.”

“I blame it on myself. I lost the count of the outs,” Báez said. “We talked about it. We're on the same page. I'll be there tomorrow to help the team.”

Earlier in Rizzo's at-bat against Cleveland pitcher Aaron Civale, Báez did not take a normal lead off first base. On the first pitch, he stayed on the bag. Through two at-bats of his own, the Cubs' shortstop was 0-for-2 with one double-play groundout (first inning) and a fielder's choice groundout (fourth).

It was a frustrating moment for the Cubs within a tough stretch that has included six losses in the past eight games. Chicago has also scored three runs or fewer in nine consecutive games, which is the longest such streak for the team since April 25-May 4, 2018.

Against Cleveland, the Cubs went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranding seven along the way. Willson Contreras doubled twice. Kris Bryant drew two walks. Chicago put two aboard in a last-ditch rally attempt in the ninth. It all went for naught.

Given all that context, Báez’s mistake was glaring.

“We've just got to make sure we're focused and locked in during the game,” Ross said. “Sometimes, our frustrations can distract us a little bit. We had a good conversation and I think that's behind us.

“Javy's really important to this team. He's a leader on this team and sets a good example every time he's on the field. He's one of the guys I rely on to set a good example for all these guys.”

On Saturday, Miami dealt Chicago an 11-1 loss that was easily the Cubs' sloppiest game of the season, drawing criticism from Ross in the wake of the defeat. While tough losses happen, Ross emphasized that he wanted to see focus and hard effort in the areas his team can control.

"From a manager standpoint," Ross said on Sunday morning, "you want your team to represent you and the things you value. Good fundamental baseball and good execution and good baserunning, good defense and all those things. I don't know that we did that [Saturday], so I take that personally. That's a reflection of me."

The decision to pull Báez was reminiscent of Sept. 20 last season, when Ross pulled former Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber due to a defensive lapse in left field in a game against the Twins.

“I think that there's more that led up to that decision maybe a little bit that you guys don't know about,” Ross said of that situation last year. “I'm not trying to set an example of Javy ever. That guy plays his butt off and brings it 99.9 percent of the time. And so, it's not about setting an example for a star player that's a big part of this team. That's not it.

“It's just, let's get somebody in there that's fresh and let him regroup and he'll be better for it tomorrow. We'll all be better for it.”

After Báez was removed, Ross sent utility man Sergio Alcántara in to play shortstop for the top of the fifth with Cleveland holding a 1-0 lead. Immediately, Harold Ramirez chopped a pitch up the middle and Alcántara was unable to convert the grounder into an out. Two batters after that infield single, Josh Naylor connected for a two-run homer off Cubs starter Adbert Alzolay.

“Obviously, Serge was not completely ready, is what I didn't like,” Báez said. “But, you know, things happen. Things happen between brothers, teammates and managers. It happens. We obviously try to be on the same page and try to help the team as much as we can.”