Javy Baez sparks streaking Cubs to early lead, 8-4 victory against White Sox
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As much as it has been in short supply during the first two cold, wet days of this Crosstown Showdown, it’s one of the traits Cubs manager Joe Maddon looks for most when deciding on a leadoff man.
Mostly, that’s because he doesn’t have Dexter Fowler anymore. Or anyone else with the kind of classic speed/on-base mix to justify the assignment every day. And because he can’t play Ben Zobrist every day.
So Saturday it was Javy Baez and his ‘‘El Mago’’ energy at the top of the lineup for the first time this season. And by the end of the second inning, Baez — the National League leader in RBI — had a triple, an infield single, a tag-eluding, swim-move slide for an unlikely stolen base and two runs scored.
Baez jump-started the Cubs’ rain-delayed 8-4 victory — their fifth in a row — against the White Sox that was only that close
because of Matt Davidson’s three-run home run in the eighth.
‘‘I’m experimenting,’’ said Maddon, who already has used six players in the leadoff spot this season after using 11 there last season. ‘‘It was a great first at-bat. It got things rolling for us [in a four-run first].’’
There’s no way Baez will stay in the leadoff spot for any significant length of time. He might not bat there again this season. But his energy Saturday and that of Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras and others in recent weeks has ignited enough from the lineup to suggest an end to the local punditry about the Cubs’ so-called leadoff problem.
The Cubs have scored 50 runs during their five-game winning streak against the tanking Marlins and tanking Sox.
Contreras — the hero Friday — added three hits, including his third homer in two days. He’s 10-for-15 with three homers, two triples and three doubles in his last three games.
But Baez, in particular, has been a bolt of energy for most of the season, no matter where he has batted (every spot but fifth and ninth) or whether he has played second base, shortstop or third base, as he did Saturday.
‘‘He’s an exciting point guard,’’ said Maddon, who has compared Baez at times to Roberto Alomar in the field, Willie Mays on the bases and Manny Ramirez at the plate. ‘‘He’s Tiny Archibald, Norm Van Lier. You’ve got to watch him.
‘‘He can have impact anywhere — in the box, running the bases, making the tag, making the play, catching a pop-up in the dugout and smiling for the cameras.’’
That happened on Trayce Thompson’s foul pop in the seventh, with Baez pausing for a beat to pose.
‘‘He’s just on cue all the time,’’ Maddon said.
He also just missed a homer when he crushed a Bob Seger drive to left in the fourth — against the wind.
‘‘People always want to give these guys superstar status,’’ said Cubs starter Jon Lester (3-1), who used former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz as a point of comparison. ‘‘David was a superstar, and there was a reason why he was.
‘‘Javy can be there one day. I think he has the flair. He knows the game better than a lot of guys give him credit for. He’s just so smart. And he’s so athletic that he can make up for mistakes, and that’s where you see like the swim move today and running the bases.’’
Baez, who called batting leadoff ‘‘weird’’ but said he is fine with it, couldn’t explain how he was able to elude the tag, even when shortstop Tim Anderson was waiting at the bag with the ball when he arrived.
‘‘When he catches the ball, everything slows down for me,’’ Baez said. ‘‘I just went around the tag; I don’t know how I do it. The ball beat me, so I just went for it.’’
Said Lester: ‘‘The game just looks easy to him when he’s out there. He definitely has the potential to be that guy.’’