In an era where every pitch thrown, every brush of bat against ball, seemingly every breath taken by big leaguers is immediately measured and categorized and dissected, it’s refreshing to witness something that cannot be quantified. Javier Baez’s baseball instincts are unparalleled, and they were on full display on Friday night in the Cubs’ 16-5 route of the Rockies at Coors Field.
The game opened with fireworks, as Albert Almora – slotted in the leadoff spot against a right-handed pitcher for the second game in a row – reached on one of the more thrilling infield singles you’ll ever see, sliding headfirst and being called safe only when Ryan McMahon’s foot drifted off the bag. From that point forward, it was the Javier Baez show, as the Cubs’ dynamic second-basemen treated viewers with the following:
- An opposite-field bomb off a low Jon Gray slider that was eerily similar to his first career homer, hit in nearly the exact same spot, in the exact same park.
- A liner into left-center, which he legged into a double (we’ve seen that one before).
- On the very next play, a sprint past Trevor Story on a grounder to the Rockies shortstop, which confused Story into an foregoing the force and throwing to third. Baez was called out, but the play was overruled after review.
- A bare-handed catch on a toss from Addison Russell on a force at second.
- A good, old-fashioned pickle, in which he was caught between third and home. That’s not good. However, he had the wherewithal to stay in the rundown long enough to direct Anthony Rizzo to second.
- Deafening chants of “Javy! Javy!” from Cubs fans in Denver at various intervals throughout the game.
After Baez’s initial home run in the first, the Rockies punched back with a D.J. LeMahieu single (I wonder what Ian Stewart is doing these days…), a Charlie Blackmon RBI double, and a Nolan Arenado two-run shot to right field in the first at-bat back from suspension. It was almost as if Arenado was trying to stave off Baez, who is encroaching on the title of “Most Exciting Player Baseball.” At the end of the first, the Rockies were ahead 3-2. After the first inning, the Cubs outscored the Rockies 13-1.
Of course, you don’t hang a number that crooked without a few others pitching in. Almora had the first four-hit game of his career; Kyle Schwarber capped off a seven-run sixth inning with a three-run, 405-foot dinger to dead center; Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jason Heyward all had multi-hit games. The Cubs sprayed line drives all over the expansive Coors outfield, continuing the trend begun on Thursday against the Cardinals.
On the pitching side, Kyle Hendricks was masterful, rebounding after a three-run first inning to induce a steady stream of weak grounders while mixing in some rare strikeouts along the way. He didn’t allow another hit, and though he fell an inning shy of the quality start, he did strike out six Rockies without issuing a walk, picking up the his first win of the year.
The combination of Mike Montgomery and Justin Wilson was solid, if unspectacular, allowing a couple earned runs over four innings of work.
All in all, an energizing win for the Cubs. Let’s hope Coors is the catalyst this offense needs to gain some stability.
Next Level: A few interesting notes about the game:
- Javier Baez now has a .452 isolated power on the year, best in MLB…and it’s not close; Didi Gregorius ranks second at .407.
- Apart from the first inning, Kyle Hendricks’s command did not appear affected whatsoever by the thin air of Coors. In the game, he still managed to get 19 called strikes.
- Hendricks now sports a .226 batting average allowed in five games at Coors Field; that mark is the best all-time among pitchers with a minimum of five career starts at Coors.
- Since the 2017 All-Star break, Albert Almora is batting .300 with a .522 slugging against right-handed pitching. Okay, the bit I left out is the .301 on-base percentage, which obviously is not ideal for a leadoff hitter. But Almora appears to be developing into a capable hitter against righties, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him continue leading off against righties.
- Anthony Rizzo went hitless in five at-bats, continuing his mystifying struggles at the best hitting environment in baseball. Since 2014, Rizzo is 9-for-45 (.200 average) with zero extra-base hits in 11 games at Coors Field.
Top Play (WPA): Javier Baez’s first-inning blast, which gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead (+.126).
Bottom Play (WPA): With the bases loaded, no outs, and the game knotted at 3-3, Anthony Rizzo hit a hard grounder to Trevor Story, resulting in a double play (-.093). Even with Albert Almora scoring on the play, it was the largest misstep of the evening for the Cubs. In any game that the Cubs didn’t score 16 runs, this one would be more significant.
Up Next: The Cubs try to keep the offensive momentum rolling as Yu Darvish takes the mound against Rockies lefty Tyler Anderson. Baez will no doubt try to one-up himself by completing the cycle he fell one triple shy of reaching on Friday.
Lead photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing—USA Today Sports