Baez powers Chicago Cubs to a fast start toward win
Javier Baez made only his 43rd start of the season at shortstop for the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night.
That didn't stop manager Joe Maddon from heaping high praise on Baez as a shortstop.
"We're kind of lucky," Maddon said before the Cubs defeated the White Sox 8-3 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Coupled with Milwaukee's loss at Pittsburgh, the Cubs (90-64) increased their lead in the National League Central to 2½ games over the Brewers and reduced their magic number to clinch the division to 6.
"We're kind of lucky Javy's able to do that as well as he does," Maddon said. "He's had a lot of play out there already this year. I feel very comfortable about it."
Baez likely will finish out the season as the team's starter at short, with Addison Russell on administrative leave as Major League Baseball conducts an investigation into allegations of domestic violence against Russell.
Baez made his presence felt early Saturday when he lined a 2-run homer over the left-field wall in the first inning against Lucas Giolito. It was Baez's 34th homer of the year, and it gave him 109 RBI for the season. He drove in a run in the ninth inning with a single to make it 110 RBI.
Even though Baez was drafted as a shortstop by the Cubs in 2011, he has played mostly second base and some third with Russell the mainstay at short.
But Baez looks like a natural at short, and he may be one of the best in the business there.
"He fits," Maddon said. "Look at our league. (The Dodgers' Corey) Seager's out this year (with injury), he's been out the whole season. A lot of good shortstops, really good in San Francisco (Brandon Crawford).
"But for the most part, think about it. He might be the best overall shortstop in the league right now if you wanted to grade it all out with his offense and defense, baserunning, etc."
Baez said he was heartened to hear of Maddon's praise.
"Feels great," he said. "Obviously, it gives me confidence, more than what I have. I think they believe in me. Obviously I will do everything for the team to get them to the next step."
Baez's home run staked starting pitcher Jon Lester to an early lead. Lester gave up an unearned run in the bottom of the first, thanks in part to a throwing error by Baez. The Sox tied the game at 2-2 in the third on a home run by Tim Anderson. It was a battle for Lester. He lasted 5 innings, throwing 102 pitches and giving up 8 hits.
"Little bit of a grind," said Lester, who is 17-6 with a 3.43 ERA. He has 60 wins in his Cubs career. "A lot of foul balls, it seemed like. The weak contact I was able to get, it seemed like I wasn't able to get it at anybody.
"I tried to talk Joe into managing an American League game and letting me go back out there for the sixth, but it wasn't happening. The bullpen did a great job picking me up for the rest of the game."