Last night, the Cubs and Pirates were locked in a pitcher’s duel at PNC, wherein neither team scored a single run until the Cubs took the lead on a triple in the top of the ninth inning.
And while a vast majority of the credit for the low-scoring affair should go to the pitchers, particularly starters Jose Quintana and Gerrit Cole, the defense deserves some love, too.
And whenever you mention a sparkling play on the Cubs’ defense (at least, in the last 2-3 years), one name frequently comes to mind: Ednel Javier Báez. And, sure enough, he was right there in the thick of it last night.
For El Mago’s headlining performance last night, he combined quick reactions with elite baseball intelligence to set up this crucial double play in the sixth:
Javy’s got it. pic.twitter.com/rDUIg2nFau
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 7, 2017
In what is quickly becoming a Javy Baez special (we’ll get to that in a second), the Cubs young shortstop purposefully lets an infield liner drop in front of him, so that he can get the lead runner out at third and have a shot at a double play … which they nailed with a nice stretch from Tommy La Stella.
It’s a risky maneuver that could go wrong in so many ways (Baez could’ve fumbled the ball, Kris Bryant could’ve been ill-prepared at third, the throw to second could’ve sailed into right field, etc.), but it didn’t, and Baez comes through for the Cubs once again.
And make no mistake, that was a critical moment in the game. Had the Cubs gotten just one out there – I think it’s fair to assume that Baez wouldn’t have doubled up either runner if he’d caught it, given how hard that ball was hit (102 MPH) – Jose Quintana still has two men on with just one out and Sean Rodriguez up at the plate. And to make matters worse, Quintana was already at 103 pitches and facing the order for the third time.
For a different perspective, look at how the Pirates’ win probability changed on that single play (Point A is just after David Freese’s single to left, Point B is just after the double play):
Baez’s double-play took the Pirates chances of winning from 70% at Point A (their highest odds of the game) down to just 53.5% at Point B, and the rest is history. That’s a huge moment and a brilliant baseball play.
And if you recall, this isn’t even the first (or most high leverage) time Baez has pulled this play off. Back during Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS, Baez purposefully let a ball drop in front of him at second base with a runner on first and second, before firing it to Russell kick-starting a critical double-play:
Funnily enough, that play also came in the sixth inning of a low-scoring affair with two runners on. That play, in case you’re wondering, took the Cubs odds of winning from 29.2% up to 38.3%.
Baez, man. The kid is smart.