Who would you say is the best defender on the Chicago Cubs right now?
If we polled it (and I did (check the bottom of this post to vote)), I’m guessing Jason Heyward, Javy Baez, and Addison Russell would receive the most votes – in that order – with Albert Almora, Willson Contreras, and maybe even Anthony Rizzo taking any leftover love.
Well, all three guys (Heyward, Baez, and Russell, that is) made excellent plays in the field during yesterday’s Opening Day tilt against the Marlins, so let’s take a look and give them a little love.
Working backwards, Baez and Russell’s inning-ending double-play in the bottom of the seventh was a sight to behold – it didn’t look like it would have a chance at being two off the bat – but it’s more of Javy’s highlight than anyone else:
It’s hard to tell from that slow-motion video (even though it does look just so cool), but the ball was a very weakly struck grounder to Russell, which means Baez had almost no time to receive the ball and fire it off to first. On top of that, he had the runner just a couple feet in front of him and a relatively new slide rule that prevent him from “neighborhood-ing” it.
But it didn’t matter, because Javy is Javy, so he caught the ball, kept his foot on the bag the entire time, stretched over/around the runner, and fired a laser to first to end the inning.
He’s still the man.
Rewind four innings earlier and Jon Lester was on the mound for the Cubs, having just given up three runs on a triple, a Starlin Castro walk (ouch), a ground out, and a couple singles.
With a runner still on and only one out in the inning, he needed something to get him back on track, and Jason Heyward delivered with the glove, as always:
— Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) March 29, 2018
Most of the focus yesterday was on Heyward’s three times on base – including a walk and a double – and solid contact all around, but that’s only because we’ve grown so accustomed to his pure excellence in right field. If he keeps making plays like the one he did yesterday, he’ll be in line for his fifth consecutive Gold Glove award by the end of the year, no doubt.
I don’t have any embeddable video of the third and final defensive play I wanted to share with you – Addison Russell’s back-handed stop in the bottom of the first – but we’ll still talk about it. And you can see it right here at Cubs.com.
On the surface, Russell’s stop and throw in the bottom of the first was by far the least flashy play of these three, but still carried the most significance.
As we know, Russell has dealt with periodic shoulder issues throughout his career, which sometimes affects his ability to put enough mustard on the ball on throws across the diamond (this is, in my opinion the *only* argument in favor of swapping positions with Baez, but even then it’s more about Russell’s health than his ability).
But during this play, Russell dug this ball deep out of the hole and retired the speedy Lewis Brinson, Miami’s starting center fielder and leadoff man, with time to spare. And it was especially good to see after Joe Maddon pointed out how much stronger his arm has/throws have looked this spring.
Because if Russell’s arm is healthy, he’s as good a shortstop as anyone in baseball.
Man, the Cubs are loaded with great defenders. I love it.
Who's the best defender on the Cubs?
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) March 30, 2018