Javy Baez — Señor October? — is doing what Addison Russell isn’t
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A double here, a double there. A steal of home, because why the hell not? More cheers from the adoring Wrigley crowd. More and more love for Javy Baez, the Cub who can do no wrong.
Baez sparked the Cubs’ 8-4 NLCS Game 1 victory in the bottom of the second inning. First, he blooped a run-scoring hit to make it a 2-0 game and — with another flash of aggressive base-running — hauled tail into second base for a double. Then, in a play that would’ve been the story had the Dodgers not fought back in the late innings, Baez stole home to make it 3-1.
Um, safety squeezes aren’t supposed to go awry if the batter doesn’t bunt the ball.
“I left a little bit early,” Baez admitted.
But he didn’t stop churning for home, flinging his arms around his head with a flourish as he slid across the plate, beating third baseman Justin Turner’s throw.
“I was trying to let the ball hit me so I wouldn’t be out,” he said.
It isn’t always perfect with Baez, but nobody’s complaining.
“Javy’s one of the most exciting players in the game right now,” catcher Davis Ross said, “and maybe one of the most exciting I’ve ever played with.
“You’ve got to have some cojones to pull that (steal) off.”
Señor October, we won’t call him yet. But there’s little question the postseason is bringing out the best in Baez, and that the 23-year-old second baseman’s best is scary-good.
But then there’s Baez’s partner in the middle of the Cubs’ infield, 22-year-old shortstop Addison Russell, who of late has been — how should we put this? — scary-bad at the plate.
Manager Joe Maddon said before Saturday’s game that he wanted his players to approach Oct. 15 as though it were Aug. 15 or July 15. In other words, keep things simple. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.
But Russell hit — a lot — in July and August, whacking 11 home runs and driving in 45 runs, huge shares of his season totals (21 and 95) in those departments. You’d better believe he’d mimic now what he did then if he could.
Instead, Russell ended the regular season in a 3-for-31 (.097) slump over the final 10 games. Against the Giants in the divisional round, he was 1-for-15 (.067).
Then he added an 0-for-4 in Game 1 against the Dodgers to the equation. Cubdom isn’t going to fret about it on a night when Baez did his thing and Miguel Montero went double-live gonzo with a late go-ahead grand slam, but Russell’s no-show bat is a potential problem.
“You can’t really judge a person’s postseason in four games,” he said heading into the Dodgers series. “I feel like I just missed a few balls (against the Giants). I’ll just go back to work, continue to analyze, see what I’m doing wrong. I’ve just missed a few balls. I’m not swinging out of the zone or anything like that.”
Russell has enjoyed watching Baez’s sudden rise to stardom. The flare with which Baez plays has energized the team.
“He’s a five-tool guy,” Russell said.
Russell, already an All-Star, has a pretty full set of tools himself.
“Addy is as good as Javy,” Montero said. “They’re just different.”
Russell’s defensive style is — like his personality on the field — more methodical and measured, but there’s no question he and Baez fit together beautifully as a defensive pair. They should make one of the strongest middle infields in baseball for years to come.
But it would be awfully nice for the Cubs if Russell would join Baez in hitting the occasional baseball where the other defense isn’t.
“I feel come hits coming,” Russell said.
They could only help.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.