How Javy Báez and the Cubs offense got their groove back
You know what they always say — “the key to hitting is hitting.”
That’s the message Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce passes along to his players and really, it’s an impossible statement to argue with.
Javy Báez and the Cubs proved it Monday night in Detroit.
Báez mashed 2 homers and the Cubs lineup posted its best performance since the third day of the season. They tied a season-high with 9 runs and it marked only the second time all year they collected 12 hits. (Ironically, the last time the Cubs had 12 hits was also the last time Báez had a 2-homer game — July 28 in Cincinnati.)
Put another way: The Cubs scored 9 runs while slugging 3 homers and 5 extra-base hits Monday night. In the previous 4 games, the Cubs notched only 1 homer and 6 extra-base hits while scoring 11 runs.
Báez went 3-for-5 Monday night with 3 RBI and in just one game, raised his season slugging percentage 69 points and his season OPS by 84 points.
“I’ve been feeling good the past few games,” Báez said. “Obviously I haven’t been getting hits or good contact, but there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of people talking about the negative stuff that we do. It’s a short season for us and we try to get better every day and we try to win as a team.”
David Ross saw the same thing — he felt Báez was getting close to putting it all together in the weekend series against the White Sox.
It was especially encouraging to see Báez go the other way, smacking his first homer to right-center.
“Yeah, listening to him come back to the dugout about how good that felt for him I think is a positive,” Ross said. “I think the last couple at-bats at home you could start to see a little bit of an under control swing where he was getting the feel for his body and where it needed to be to get the barrel to the ball and a really nice approach — that homer to right. That’s gotta be a big weight lifted off his shoulder.”
Yes, it was just one night and against a rookie making his second-career start in the big leagues on a Tigers pitching staff that ranks near the bottom of baseball in nearly every statistical category.
But all you can do is play the opponent in front of you and the Cubs lineup doing what it’s supposed to do is certainly a step in the right direction after the recent offensive underperformance.
So how did they get to this point? In part by remaining with their approach.
As they struggled to score at times over the last couple weeks, the Cubs continued to work deep counts and accept their walks. They may not have always had the results they wanted, but they also had plenty of instances where they hit the ball hard right at defenders.
In baseball terms, it simply wasn’t falling their way for a little while there.
That changed Monday…for one day, at least.
And getting Báez back to his usual self will be a huge boon to this lineup after he posted a .183 AVG and .515 OPS in August prior to Monday night’s outburst.
“You just gotta learn from it,” he said. “For me, it’s not giving up. I let it go fast, with the help of my teammates keeping my head up. It’s been huge. We’re just moving forward to the next game.”
Part of the equation for the Cubs lineup has been the bizarre season they’re in the midst of. As Kris Bryant said Sunday, it feels like the season just started but also that they’re running out of time.
Less than five weeks remain in the 2020 regular season, so a player who looks up at the scoreboard and is unhappy with his stats can’t have the standard rationale that there’s a lot of time left for things to even out.
Which is also why one big offensive performance like Monday night can potentially have a bigger carry-over effect than lone games in past seasons.
“You love to see our guys swinging well,” David Bote said. “You knew it wasn’t going to last long [with Báez]. It wasn’t going to last forever. He’s an unbelievable talent, unbelievable worker.
“It’s just one of those things in a funky season like this where you’re just trying to navigate through the process and you’re trying to navigate through the season and realize that we got four weeks left, so you feel like you’re just trying to get it going instead of just letting it happen. I think everybody’s been trying to figure that out.”
Now where does this offense go from here? They understand there is more room for growth as the season moves along — something Theo Epstein spoke about over the weekend.
“The big picture is I’m really encouraged our record is what it is and a lot of our best hitters haven’t really gotten on track yet,” Epstein said before Friday’s game. “They will and they’re gonna carry us maybe at a time when we go through a tougher time with our pitching or our defense and run prevention overall.
“There are certainly things we’re doing well — we’re seeing a ton of pitches and all that. We haven’t really hit left-handed pitching that consistently yet and we’ve gone through some of our contact issues and whatnot. But overall, I’d characterize our offense to doing enough to win by definition and also not yet clicking on all cylinders, so I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”