We can all agree that Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo still have their names at the top of the marquee when it comes to this Cubs team. They are the co-stars of the show, MVP candidates this year and likely beyond, the corner-infield straws that stir the most intoxicating drink in all of Chicago.
Who doesn’t love Bryzzo Inc.?
But something else has become clear in these playoffs, if it hadn’t already, and it’s that the Cubs’ middle-infield duo — second baseman Javy Baez and shortstop Addison Russell — is every bit as important as Bryant and Rizzo to the team’s hopes of capturing a World Series title.
There’s just no way the Cubs would be one victory from winning the National League Championship Series without … Baessell? Russez?
We may need a while to work on the nickname.
“Those guys are incredible players,” Bryant said. “Anybody can see how much they do for our team.”
Jon Lester sure sees it. After Russell homered in Game 5 — his second straight night with the biggest hit for the Cubs against the Dodgers — and Baez went off at the plate and made yet another spectacular defensive play, Lester didn’t want to talk about his own clutch pitching.
“I don’t even know why I’m up here with these guys,” he said, flanked by the 23-year-old Baez and the 22-year-old Russell, in a postgame press conference. “These guys won the game for us tonight. I was just kind of along for the ride.”
The public tip of the cap didn’t end there. Back home in Chicago on Friday afternoon, Lester tweeted similar praise of his young middle infielders. That’s leadership, not to mention a firm grasp of the obvious.
All the home runs and RBIs and maybe even MVP awards to come for Bryant and Rizzo are exciting to think about.
Yet how long a shadow is Russell — already an elite defender who topped 20 home runs and drove in nearly 100 in the regular season — eventually going to cast among the game’s shortstops? How many All-Star Games will there be for him?
And how huge a name will Baez have by the time he’s done blowing up in these playoffs? Manager Joe Maddon actually compared him to Magic Johnson the other day. Baez’s preternatural feel for the game has become the coolest thing going in October.
“Javy is a phenomenal player,” veteran David Ross said. “He’s on his way to being a superstar.”
Baez’s latest did-you-see-that moment came in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5, with the Cubs in front 3-1. Many of us have watched a dozen replays by now of Baez charging from the outfield grass to barehand a hard-bunted ball and throw out Adrian Gonzalez, the leadoff batter of the inning, at first.
It was an amazing play because no one else on either team — maybe no one else in the league — could’ve replicated it. But it also was a vital play, a clutch play, because it prevented the Dodgers from sparking a rally and kept Lester in the driver’s seat in his final inning.
Coming one inning after Russell’s go-ahead home run, it left quite an impression: Bryant and Rizzo are a special pair, but they’re hardly the only one.
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