Javy Baez continues to bring excitement to Cubs fans

Javy Baez really can do it all. He showcased that on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays when he had a RBI bloop single, an awe-inspiring home run to put the game away late and a sliding defensive play that few infielders can make.

One day later, it was more of the same from the man they call “El Mago.”

Another RBI and a difficult adjustment to make another spectacular play in the field at the end of the game brought the fans to their feet.

If that wasn’t enough, Baez scored the game winning run, with style, in the 10th inning of Sunday’s series finale.

For Cubs fans, this sort of weekend is why you ride the Javy Baez roller coaster through thick and thin.

Baez’s backstory is well-known at this point. A Puerto Rico native, he was drafted by the Cubs in the first round of 2011’s MLB draft. After toiling away in the minors for a few years (he was the Cubs’ top prospect in both 2012 and 2013), he debuted with mixed success in 2014.

Fast forward to 2016, when Baez inserted himself as an integral part of the Cubs’ championship roster. He was far from an everyday player, but his versatility made him an asset all over the infield, while his bat, despite having boom-or-bust tendencies, helped an already-potent offense.

With the lights at their brightest, Baez was at his best in 2016. During the NLDS and NLCS, Baez slashed .342/.366/.526 combined, winning NLCS co-MVP along with Jon Lester.

And, of course, you can’t forget about his home run in Game 7 of the World Series.

If he wasn’t already one of the Cubs’ most popular players because of his versatility, flashy plays, and powerful swings, he became one after his tremendous playoffs run.

This season, Baez has played about as much as last season, and while his offensive numbers are mostly similar to his 2016 production (aside from a much higher slugging percentage), he’s become even more valuable in the day-to-day lineup.

With Addison Russell out for most of August so far with plantar fasciitis, Baez has stepped into the starting shortstop role, and admirably so. Through Aug. 20, Baez is slashing .297/.338/.625 with a 136 wRC+ since Russell went down.

For a team that’s struggled with consistency and lost its hottest player, catcher Willson Contreras, to an untimely DL stint as well, Baez’s recent production has been a godsend.

The strong replacement play has added to Baez’s value, and from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, so has his exciting play in the field.

Baez is prone to making an occasional mistake in the field, but he counters that with moments that make you shake your head in utter disbelief, wondering how a simple mortal could make such a play.

When you watch him flash leather with apparent ease in extremely difficult situations, it’s easy to fall in love with No. 9.

He’s not the pure defender Russell is (Russell has 14 defensive runs saved this season, while Baez has just two when combining every position he’s played), but he adds an excitement in the field that few players can match.

The same can be said when he’s at the plate.

He has limitations, such as an extraordinarily low walk rate and a high strikeout percentage, but when he connects and hits balls 400+ feet with a 100+ MPH exit velocity regularly, you’re more willing to accept the low points.

For better or for worse, games are always more exciting when Baez is playing. He’ll drive you crazy booting grounders or swinging as hard as he can at pitches in the dirt, but those seem like distant memories when he’s making circus catches and hitting monstrous home runs.

When Russell eventually returns from his injury, it will make manager Joe Maddon’s job a little harder in terms of making sure all of his talented players see the field.

However, considering his excellent performance of late, Baez is making it hard to argue against leaving him in the everyday starting lineup wherever there may be an opening.

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