Cubs fans, if you’re unhappy about the way the season ended, you’re not alone.
Javy Baez is right there with you.
Baez turned himself into an MVP candidate in 2018, enjoying one of the best seasons in Cubs history. But it’s a year that ended in tears for him and some of his teammates after dropping a heartbreaker to the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild-Card Game Tuesday night (and a little bit into Wednesday morning).
All season, Baez was the guy Cubs fans and players turned to in hopes he would come through in a big moment.
He certainly delivered Tuesday, smacking a double into the left-center gap in the eighth inning with two outs and two strikes to plate Terrance Gore and tie the game.
Unfortunately for Baez and the Cubs, that was the only run the lineup could score all night against Rockies pitching. As a whole, they notched just two tallies in 22 innings of action in must-win games across the first two days of October.
The thing is – the Cubs should not have even been playing Tuesday night. Or Monday afternoon for that matter.
They held onto the division lead for months before Milwaukee came slamming into their coattails.
Roughly an hour after being eliminated, Baez held court at his locker, unveiling a stream of consciousness about how the Cubs got to the point where they would wake up on the morning of Oct. 3 with no baseball left to play.
“Everybody went down,” Baez said. “It was tough without the bullpen, without [Kris Bryant], without [Yu] Darvish, but at the end of the day, we still tied. We struggled the whole year. The whole year. Tony [Rizzo] struggled all April. We just kept going about, we gotta get it back, we gotta get together. But it never came to us.
“We were never in a rhythm of winning games. And i think it was ’cause we were paying attention to other teams ’cause we lost so many people from our lineup that we were just paying attention to what other teams were doing and that’s not how it works. If we pay attention to what they do, that’s what we’ll do. It’s how I look at it.
“Next year, we gotta come back and fight again. we gotta make an adjustment about that. ‘Cause I wanna make sure, I don’t wanna hear nothing about other teams because we know what we got. But it’s tough.”
When asked to clarify, Baez did and then some:
“Before September, it was like St. Louis is up or they were down 6 games or Milwaukee was down 2 games,” he said. “I just feel like our mind was over there and not here, touching the ground. And you just have to do a lot with it, the way you play the game, the way you react when you fail, the frustration, all that. It shows how you feel.
“And we were trying to get everybody here together, but at the same time, because we struggled, we paid attention to how far we were back, how far we were in front of anybody. And that’s not what we do. In 2016, it didn’t matter who was out there. We knew we had a lineup and we knew they had to pick somebody to pitch to in that lineup.
“We’re not doing that and if we’re not doing that and we don’t play as a team, we’re not gonna win.”
The 25-year-old played all over the infield for the Cubs in 2018, including taking over at shortstop full time when Addison Russell was hurt and then again when Russell was placed on administrative leave.
Baez led the National League with 111 RBI while smacking 34 homers, 40 doubles, 9 triples, stealing 21 bags, scoring 101 runs and hitting .290 with an .881 OPS.
Those numbers added with Baez’s reliability from the start of the season until the end and his extreme baseball IQ, this Cubs team saw “El Mago” emerge as one of the most vocal leaders in the clubhouse.
Part of that is because of how well he sees the game and always seems to be one step ahead of opponents.
Yet he wasn’t able to get his team over the hump and into the NLDS, despite his eighth-inning heroics Tuesday night.
“What hurts me is we struggled all year and we still went really far,” Baez said. “Other teams pay attention to us even though we struggled all year. But we made it to the playoffs again. This is the fourth season making it to the playoffs.
“We didn’t win first place this year, but like I said, we struggled. It happens; this is baseball. If you don’t make the adjustment, nobody’s gonna make it for you. It was a tough year for us. It was a great year for me and I still believe I can do better. We’ll see next year.”
Of course Baez believes he can do better. What player wouldn’t after putting together a season like that at only age 25?
But Baez is also focused on getting the Cubs team as a whole to improve in 2019, especially mentally.
“I think everybody here gets it when we’re really down,” he said. “When we’re down and we’re again the wall, everybody gets together. And I think that’s what we needed from the beginning.
“To compete and to make the other team look at us – not us look at them or not us looking at how they’re gonna react. It’s about us. It’s not about over there.”
Baez also has the luxury of time, as he’s still under contract for three more years with the Cubs before he hits free agency.
There’s always next year.
“I thought we were gonna go to the World Series this year again,” Baez said. “We weren’t us. We were competing, but at the moment, not the whole time, not as a team.”
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