Short story: Cubs better with Javy Baez at short than Addison Russell?
Could Javy Baez become the Cubs’ starting shortstop? Should he?
With Addison Russell struggling at the plate and in the field, Baez has joined him in a job share.
The stronger-armed, flashier Baez has started at short in half of the Cubs’ last 12 games as Russell (.209, three home runs) has concentrated on extra work with coaches and gotten a mental break.
But manager Joe Maddon said he’s not planning to change his middle-infield alignment.
“I’m not looking to do that,” he said before the Cubs’ 6-5 loss Wednesday night against the Marlins that snapped their five-game winning streak.
Maddon, however, acknowledges the deepening struggles of Russell, an All-Star starter in his first full big-league season last year. Those struggles include a recent trend of poor throws and a hard-hit ball he allowed to play him for an error in Tuesday’s victory over the Marlins.
Maddon also raved about Baez’s elite arm as a middle infielder, wondering aloud whether he or catcher Willson Contreras has the strongest non-pitching arm on the team. And he compared an acrobatic play Baez made Tuesday on a ball up the middle to the skills of Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and seven-time All-Star Robinson Cano.
“[Russell’s] not on top of his game now; I cannot defend that,” said Maddon, who also didn’t have an explanation for Russell’s downturn after two seasons of growth.
But he also said he believes in Russell’s “no-chrome” steadiness in the field as the better fit as his long-term shortstop.
“As long as he’s healthy and well, he’s going to look like that again. I saw it way too much over the last two years,” Maddon said. “I can’t deny he has not played up to his standards at this point. But I have a lot of faith in this guy because his mechanics, his fundamentals are that good for me.”
By all accounts, Russell is not hampered physically. Whatever the cause of his two-way inconsistency, Russell has rarely been the best shortstop in the game when the Cubs have played.
Meanwhile, Baez has surged since a rough April. Even after his 0-for-3 performance, he’s hitting .296 with eight homers and 22 RBI in 30 games since the start of May.
Remember Kyle Schwarber, the fireplug slugger whose only three hits since May 17 were home runs?
Schwarber snapped that 3-for-44 trend in the third inning with a tailing, opposite-field double off the glove of Marcell Ozuna. Then he homered into the basket in left-center in the seventh and drove in another run with a double to the right-center gap in the eighth.
It was his first three-hit game of the season and just his third multihit game since April 24.
“It’s more just staying within myself and not trying to go out there and try to get hits after hits after hits,” said Schwarber, who added that he has been working with hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske on shortening his swing. “It’s allowing me to be more relaxed at the plate and just feel more comfortable in the box.”
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