The Cubs’ loss last night was its own bad pile of funk, but it was in many ways overshadowed by Javy Báez’s lapse on the bases and subsequent benching. Not only had the Cubs dealt with repeated lapses over the weekend, so yet another really stood out as a point of frustration, but also for Báez to be pulled like that was such a surprise.
It’s not something David Ross does much – sending messages and what-have-you – but he did it once last year after a defensive lapse by Kyle Schwarber, and now he’d done it when Báez forgot how many outs there were while running the bases, getting himself doubled off first base. Still, Ross said it wasn’t about making an example out of the latest screw-up.
“I’m not trying to set an example of Javy ever,” Ross said after the game, per Cubs.com. “That guy plays his butt off and brings it 99.9 percent of the time. And so, it’s not about setting an example for a star player that’s a big part of this team. That’s not it. It’s just, let’s get somebody in there that’s fresh and let [Báez] regroup and he’ll be better for it tomorrow. We’ll all be better for it.”
The implication is that Ross was less bothered by the lapse, itself, and was more trying to stop a situation where other frustrations were getting taken out into the field.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re focused and locked in during the game,” Ross said. “Sometimes, our frustrations can distract us a little bit. We had a good conversation and I think that’s behind us. Javy’s really important to this team. He’s a leader on this team and sets a good example every time he’s on the field. He’s one of the guys I rely on to set a good example for all these guys.”
Báez, who’d had such a great month of May like many other Cubs, is mired in a brutal stretch at the plate, hitting just .111/.158/.278 with a 43.9% K rate in June. He’d grounded into a double-play his first time up, and had grounded into another near double-play before his wanderlust on the bases.
For his part, Báez was surprised by the benching – we all were – but he isn’t beefing.
“There is no hard feelings right now,” Báez said, per The Athletic. “We talked right after the game. We are on the same page right now. I got taken out of the lineup, and obviously Serge* was not completely ready, which is what I didn’t like. But, you know, things happen. Things happen between brothers, teammates and managers …. I can’t go against him. I blame it on myself. I lost count of the outs. We talked about it. We’re on the same page. I’ll be there tomorrow to help the team.”
Whether it was a message or an example or a sincere attempt to improve the team’s performance for the rest of the game, the reality is that the pull will stick out not only to those of us who watch and discuss these things, but also to the guys in the clubhouse. How it’s been handled will go a long way to determining whether it has, at worst, a neutral impact, or, at best, helps gather up some additional focus. Specifically, as the Cubs continue a significant slide at the plate, maybe this can be a catalyzing moment to remind them all that, regardless of what happens in the box, you can still impact the game in a positive way all over the rest of the field. Stay on that part while you’re on that part.
As for Báez, specifically, I’m not worried about any part of his game suffering for this moment. He’s just too locked in – usually – and so in the moment. You don’t pull off half the stuff he does out there if you’re not.
*(The Sergio Alcantara reference there is that, immediately after Báez’s removal, Alcantara couldn’t convert a tough bouncer for an out at first, and then couldn’t finish off a tough double-play, which preceded a two-run homer. Neither was necessarily a lock to be made by Báez, but he’s just about the best out there, so, as good as a cold Alcantara is, I would bet on Báez having pulled off one or the other. So benching Báez stung immediately, but that’s the nature of the sport – the ball will find you.)