It probably would have sounded sarcastic to say even a year ago and certainly two years ago. But if the Cubs make the playoffs this year, don’t be surprised if Jason Heyward gets some love on some MVP ballots this year.
Maybe even enough mentions somewhere on those 30 10-spot ballots to earn a top-15 finish, as he did as a Gold Glove right fielder in 2015 for the 100-win Cardinals.
That was the last time he received any MVP votes (also in 2010 and 2012).
The guy who has drawn most of his attention since then for a rain-delay team meeting during the World Series and making his $184 million deal look like one of the worst contracts in the game is quietly having one of the best, productive seasons of his career.
And for a flawed team trying to navigate a tougher National League field to return to the playoffs, his most recent contributions might be the easiest to overlook – and the most valuable.
“J-Hey stepping up and being able to lead off and play center field and embracing those responsibilities allows us to put the rest of the group in a pretty good spot,” team president Theo Epstein said. “He’s shouldered a lot for this team this year, and he continues to do that.”
Heyward, a five-time Gold Glove winner in right, told Epstein during a conversation before the All-Star break that he could play center field if given enough reps to adjust if the team needed to manipulate positions and playing time to get more out of the lineup.
That made it easy for newly acquired Nick Castellanos to play primarily in right after being acquired at the July 31 trade deadline.
And with the Cubs getting the worst production in the majors out of the leadoff spot in July (.222 on-base and .545 OPS), he embraced a move to leadoff – with one stipulation.
“I asked [manager Joe Maddon] to be patient with me up there and not to move me out of there if it doesn’t go perfect right away, just because it’s an adjustment,” said Heyward, who had a .355 on-base percentage at the time.
He had mixed results his first week after the change, but the Cubs went 6-2 in the first eight games.
“If we do what we expect to do over the next couple of months, that’s an important [contribution], a behind-the-scenes thing,” Epstein said. “Him embracing that responsibility is awesome.”
DID YOU KNOW
- After beating the Nationals in two of three games in Washington, the Cubs opened a homestand May 20 and have gone 26-13 (.667) at home since then. But they were just 35-35 overall during that stretch as they finished their most recent homestand, thanks to 10 consecutive winless road series. Not that the Brewers and Cardinals are doing much better. The Cubs doubled their division lead over the Brewers in that span, to three games.
- The Cubs have the second-best interleague record in the majors all-time: 50-28 (.641) with their series victory over the Athletics this past week. Only Boston at 49-19 (.721) is better. The Cubs are 10-8 this season with two games left against woeful Seattle.
THAT’S WHAT HE SAID
“He’s reminding us what hunger looks like. … Everything about him indicates, ‘Let’s go; I want to play in October.’ “ – Cubs manager Joe Maddon on newly acquired outfielder Nick Castellanos, who was 15-for-37 (.405) with six doubles, four homers and a 1.342 OPS in his first nine games as a Cub.
“It’s the same. Big in the box, kick high, swing hard, run fast. That’s about it.” – Castellanos when asked about his quick adjustment from Detroit to the National League.
“I never thought he had one.” – Maddon on whether Anthony Rizzo has lost a step on the bases since he turned 30 Thursday.
7 – Cubs to start at second base this season when Ian Happ became the latest to get a turn on Wednesday (also Daniel Descalso, Addison Russell, David Bote, Robel Garcia, Ben Zobrist and Tony Kemp).
36 – Consecutive innings pitched without a walk by the starting rotation from July 30 to Aug. 5. The streak included six full starts (plus two innings) – the franchise’s longest streak of starts without a walk since at least 1905.
6 – Catchers the Cubs have used this season after Kyle Schwarber finished Tuesday night’s game behind the plate and newly signed Jonathan Lucroy joined the mix Thursday (also Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Martin Maldonado, Taylor Davis).