Will El Mago’s Disappearing Act Cause Maddon to Close Curtain?

Javy Baez is nothing short of magic in the field and he’s capable of doing some big things at the plate as well. But like any young practitioner of any of the various forms of wizardy, his overzealous approach often yields results that are anything but entertaining.

That’s been the case so far this postseason, as Javy has gone hitless with eight strikeouts in 19 at-bats. He’s drawn two walks and followed each by stealing second, but the overall offensive performance has been disappointing to say the least. Given the wealth of options the Cubs have at second base, could this futility lead to a change?

“Javy’s been that guy throughout his minor-league and even major-league career who can be awful for a couple days at the plate, and then all of a sudden be spectacular,” Joe Maddon said prior to Sunday’s Game 2 loss. “So I always have that in my mind with him.”

Maddon went on to reference Javy’s heads-up play early in Game 5 in Washington, the one where he threw Trea Turner out the plate to stop a Nats rally before it could start and kept the Cubs in the lead (for a time). But therein lies the issue that has dogged the Cubs in all but one postseason game thus far. With offense at a dire premium, there may come a time at which it’s necessary to sacrifice defense.

The Cubs exploded for nine runs in that elimination game, but have tallied only 11 more in six other postseason contests. When you’re not even crossing the plate twice a game, something has to change. Or maybe it doesn’t.

As Maddon noted, Javy can get hot at any time. And his stellar defense — he made a fantastic running catch on a pop fly in Sunday’s game — is guaranteed to be better than any of Addison Russell’s other potential double-play partners can muster. You still have to wonder whether that matters as much as just having a warm body with a bat in his hands.

“He could get just as hot [as in last year’s NLCS],” Maddon justified. “I’ve had guys like that before. Listen, these are our guys. This is how we got here. I do not run away from that.”

I totally get that and I’m very much down with the idea that Baez has the highest ceiling among the available options, but I also admit that my patience with him is running very thin. As good as he can be, you have to ask yourself whether Tommy La Stella, Ben Zobrist, or Ian Happ could really be any worse. I mean, sure, they could be if they go hitless and boot the ball all over the infield.

The decision on whether or not to sit Javy has been made easier with lefties on the mound for the Dodgers (even though both have reverse splits), but may be difficult with Yu Darvish facing the Cubs in Game 3. The lone righty in LA’s playoff rotation strikes out nearly 28 percent of the right-handed hitters he has faced, limiting them to a .600 OPS and .260 wOBA. Not an ideal matchup for a guy who’s struggling like Javy is at the plate right now.

Even as loyal as Maddon is, I would imagine he sits El Mago when the series resumes. Kyle Schwarber is almost a lock to start in left and Jason Heyward makes sense in right, which means no room in the outfield for Ben Zobrist, a player for whom the Cubs skipper has an almost reckless affinity. Zobrist will likely get the start at second, just as we saw in Game 3 of the division series against Max Scherzer.

It was heavily criticized at the time, but Zobrist ended up collecting the Cubs’ first and only hit against Scherzer and even made a great play shortly thereafter to help solidify a 2-1 win. I’ve got a feeling that there won’t be quite as much gnashing of teeth should Maddon make the same call this time around. Were I tasked with making out the lineup, it wouldn’t even be a question.

As great as Javy can be, I don’t want him picking up multiple plate appearances at this point, especially against a righty. He could easily come in as a defensive replacement or pinch-hitter/runner, thereby maximizing his value even when he’s not hitting. If nothing else, he could use a little more time to chill and maybe get outside of his own head for a bit.

Maddon and the Cubs have shown plenty of faith in the dynamic infielder, but now it’s time to set that aside and make the best decision when it comes to staying alive in the series.

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