Cubs' Baez breaks out in big way
(TSX / STATS) -- CHICAGO -- For 20 consecutive postseason at-bats, Javier Baez failed to collect a hit, forcing Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon to weigh the value of Baez's value as a defender against his inability to make things happen at the plate.
However, with the Cubs on the brink of elimination Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baez finally broke though. And by doing so, the star second baseman helped the Cubs remain alive in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
Baez homered twice in the Cubs' 3-2 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field. He went deep in the second and fifth innings against Los Angeles starter Alex Wood.
"Since the (NL Division Series), I've been trying to get a base hit so hard," Baez said after the Wednesday night win that drew the Cubs within 3-1 in the NLCS. "Tonight, I just said to myself not to try too much, and I didn't, and there you have it. I had two good contacts, and (we won) the game by one run."
The Cubs continue to live by the home run. Chicago has scored all seven of its NLCS runs via the long ball. That continued Wednesday, when Baez and catcher Willson Contreras sparked the Cubs with a combined three solo homers.
While the Cubs struggled to produce offensively throughout the series, Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo became the faces of Chicago's woes from the plate. Rizzo is hitting .077 in the NLCS.
After Baez finally ended his personal drought by homering in his first two at-bats Wednesday night, he and his teammates realize the Cubs' work is far from over. Chicago still needs to win three consecutive games, starting with Game 5 at Wrigley Field on Thursday, to reach the World Series.
The season-saving Game 4 victory proved to be a step in the right direction, both for the Cubs and Baez, who admitted Wednesday night that worrying about his family back in his native Puerto Rico played into his on-field frustrations.
"Just give him credit for sticking with it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "(It has been a) very difficult start to the postseason for him, and that's what he can do."
Now, the Cubs -- who face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Thursday -- must find a way to keep producing if they are again to fight off elimination.
"We have so much talent on this team -- it's any guy on any given day, and it takes a lot of pressure off of everybody," Rizzo said. "Javy was obviously struggling a little bit from the plate. But the way he carried himself, his spirits were easy and he comes out today and hits two big home runs for us, and one was the deciding factor."
Like everyone in the Cubs' confident clubhouse, Baez understands the importance to not taking too much comfort in finding a way to win to extend the series. Now, it's just a matter of staying true to the one-game-at-a-time mentality that Maddon always preaches.
At this point, the Cubs don't have much of a choice.
"(It's) great to have this win, because if not, we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."
Updated October 19, 2017