The Cubs might have shown off their infield of the future Friday and Javier Baez made his case to be included.
Addison Russell hit two home runs, Baez homered for the first time this year, Anthony Rizzo added a grand slam and the Cubs routed the Arizona Diamondbacks 14-5. Playing shortstop, Russell had the first multi-homer game while Baez started at second base and picked up three hits with a walk. Kris Bryant also drove in a run and scored.
With Kyle Schwarber sidelined because of a mild right rib cage strain that will keep out at least this weekend, Baez and Russell combined for five hits and six runs batted in to contribute to a rout that supported Jon Lester (9-10).
“Everyone wants to get a knock,” Russell said. “You’re just trying to get the next one.”
Unlike Russell, Baez isn’t assured he’ll be in the lineup every day to finish this year. He’s one of a horde of players who could find themselves at multiple spots, and that could even mean he’ll spend some time on the bench.
But that won’t last forever.
“Moving forward, he’s going to be an everyday player, there’s no question,” manager Joe Maddon said before the game. “As we move this thing into next year and the year after you’ll see him playing on a consistent basis, but for right now he has to figure out how to be ready sporadically sometimes, even in-game with switches that can occur.”
On Friday, Maddon liked Baez’s approach and his defense, noting a backhanded play he made in the seventh after moving to third. His exaggerated leg kick was toned down, and his homer came on an 0-2 count to cap an eight-run fifth.
Though three games and nine at-bats won’t make anybody forget about Baez’s 2014 big-league stint or anoint him the Cubs’ future, he gave some reason to think that’s possible.
“He did a lot of things really well today, and again you watch him out there, and I watch him very closely, he’s got a tension-free kind of a game,” Maddon said. “He’s very loose on the field, he’s got a really good way out there.”
That would be a bonus for the Cubs. With Starlin Castro’s future in Chicago murky at best, the Cubs would welcome Baez’s ascension. For now, he’s still trying to adjust to his swing and his new role while helping push toward the playoffs.
“As long as I keep my approach better,” Baez said, “it will be fine.”
Russell’s been pretty good for a while this season and also drew praise from Maddon for both his defense and the two homers, which gave him 12 this year.
Baez, meanwhile, is older than Russell and broke into the big leagues first but could be seen as more of a work in progress than Russell. But Maddon is just as eager to see where Baez could go.
“As we get better at the plate and he brings that defensive game actually to offense in regards to how he processes everything… heads up,” Maddon said. “It’s going to be really fun to watch for many years.”