Cleat Geeks

Wrigley Weekly Wrap-up

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 29: Kris Bryant #17 (L) of the Chicago Cubs and Anthony Rizzo #44 (R) congratulate Ben Zobrist #18 on hitting a three run home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning at Wrigley Field on May 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

The Cubs have the best record in all of baseball, the offense has been hot, and the pitching staff has been outstanding. So it’s no surprise that the Cubs are well represented in the first update on the National League All-Star fan voting. If voting ended when the first round results came out, the Cubs’ infield would be starting for the National League in July 12th’s All-Star Game at Petco Park. First baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Addison Russell, and third baseman Kris Bryant all lead their respective positions. Rizzo leads all NL players with 874,471 votes. The only positions not led by Cubs players are catcher and outfield, where Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler are third and second. “Our guys are likable. They’re approachable,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re blue collar, man. There’s not a white-collar guy among them. They come out there, they get their fingernails dirty and I think people appreciate that. I think they’re very Chicago.”

Watch Geek Nation Episode 30 where the “Geek Nation Conversation” answers the question; “Are all the Cubs infielders All-Stars?” After you watch the episode, read the comments, and leave a comment of your own!

Javier Baez could be another Ben Zobrist for the Cubs. Joe Maddon has been hyping up Baez since the beginning of spring training 2015, crediting his speed, defense, and baseball IQ as possible JavyBaez1game-changers even if he’s still developing and maturing. Maddon even thinks Baez could start switch-hitting if he wanted to. Baez was once the “next big thing” when he came up in August 2014. But since then we’ve seen Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber pass him up on the development path. It’s not like he just wasn’t getting it though. The passing of his sister and a finger injury derailed much of his 2015 season. Another finger issue delayed his 2016 debut. Now Baez is appearing in the starting lineup and getting work all over the baseball diamond as a super-utility guy. He has already played every infield position plus left field this season. Baez, probably, had his best game so far on Thursday for the series finale with the Dodgers. He hit a homer, driving in three runs, and he played excellent defense at second base, which included a diving catch in short center field. Is Maddon shocked by Baez’s recent success? “Honestly, no. The way he’s accepted [his utility role] is really – I shouldn’t say I’m surprised with, but I’m pleased with. He’s really accepted it well,” Maddon said. “When he doesn’t start the game, you go down there and give him a high five before the game and he’s smiling, he’s engaged. You know he’s gonna be ready that night. He’s just doing it properly. So that’s the part that I’m really pleased with because I know if he has that kind of mindset, he’s gonna play like you’re seeing him play right now.” There is no guarantee that Baez will ever find a home at a particular position with the Cubs, but he could push Bryant into the outfield full time and take over third base. Or JavyBaez2he could just be another Ben Zobrist and be a utility player, a type of player Maddon loves. “I think he knows that his time’s coming,” Maddon said. “He’s gonna be a starter. He knows that. He knows even if he doesn’t start tonight, he has a pretty good chance of getting on the field at some point. So all those different factors, he’s really dealt with it perfectly, actually.”

Baez did admit it’s hard to stay locked in at the plate when he’s not starting every day. “I’m keeping my approach every time I come to the plate,” he said. “When I’m not playing, I hit in the cage during the game to stay warm in case I get in the game.” Baez has had talks with Zobrist about how to react to the ball when switching positions so often. He also said he’s fine with playing all over the place and does not have a favorite position right now. “I focus more on offense right now,” Baez said. “I think it’s one of the hardest things in the world. I’m pretty good at defense, so I’m just letting that take care of itself.”

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Hopefully you didn’t forget about Kyle Schwarber with all the noise the Cubs are making so far. Schwarber has been seen back in the clubhouse with his teammates. On Tuesday, he flew to Dallas to have his knee examined for the first time since having his ACL and LCL repaired by Dr. Daniel Cooper on April 19th – 12 days after suffering the injury in a collision with Dexter Fowler in Arizona. “Reports are very good,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “He’s progressing very nicely. I think he’s gone from two crutches to one crutch and can walk around and stuff like that. Hopefully some of his celebrations in the dugout will seem less awkward.” Schwarber won’t be back this season, but a successful recovery is expected that will allow him to resume catching and playing the outfield by next spring.

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Must people know what Anthony Rizzo does on the field, but some don’t know how much he does off the field. Rizzo held his fourth annual Cook-Off For Cancer fundraiser after the win over the Dodgers on Thursday. The fundraiser involves Cubs players serving guests food from 17 Chicago restaurants. Players and restaurants competed against each other as guests voted for their favorite food by tipping their Cubs server. All of the money earned from the event benefits pediatric cancer research and supports children and their families battling the disease. Of course the annual event is important to Rizzo because he battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008. He started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012 and has visited many different children in Chicago area hospitals during his time with the Cubs. Rizzo hopes to raise a million dollars by the end of the year. Rizzo’s teammate Jon Lester battled anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006. “The last thing on my mind when I was 24 was starting a foundation, a charity,” Lester said. “That shows you where his head is at and what he wanted to do. … It’s kind of nice to see him come full circle and get to this point.” Lester was one of the people Rizzo looked up to when he was battling with his illness. “If you can help if any way, shape or form, just a little bit can go a long way,” Rizzo said. “Jon has no idea how much he helped me, but his little bit encouraged me to do all this.” That kind of support is something Rizzo hopes he gives to the children and families that he visits and helps with fundraisers.

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Cubs catching prospect Willson Contreras is making a lot of noise in Triple-A Iowa but the team isn’t ready to promote him. Right now the Cubs are happy with their three catchers David Ross, Miguel Montero, and Tim Federowicz. His promotion would depend on a specific need by the team and if there was an injury, we might still not even see him. Reason being because of the three catchers on the roster right now. So if one gets injured, there are two more to take his place. The Cubs’ rotation has the best ERA in baseball and the catchers behind the plate deserve some credit. That is why Contreras will have to wait his turn for the time being. “The offensive production has been terrific,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of Contreras. “There is so much more than looking at the offensive stat line. He keeps getting better with his framing. He keeps getting better at game calling, and the staff down there at (Triple-A Iowa) loves him.” There is no need to call him up right now since the Cubs are doing well. Montero is, as always, in the top 10 in pitching framing and Federowicz would have to clear waivers to be sent down. The Cubs do not want to risk losing him right now.  “He’s going to come up to the big leagues and deal with a lot of veteran guys,” Hoyer said. “Veteran pitching staff, a veteran coaching staff and to be able to be a young catcher is difficult. The work he’s putting in, in Iowa, will make that much easier. We couldn’t be happier with what he’s doing right now.” Contreras’ time will come and I know we all are looking forward to it.

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Another road trip for the team means another theme trip. This time around it’ll be an NBA Finals tribute with track suits. Jon Lester and strength coach Tim Buss handed out track suits to the entire team for their three-city tour through the NL East that begins in Philadelphia on Monday. “In Philly you have to wear it on the bus,” manager Joe Maddon said as he sported his track suit jacket Saturday morning. “Very NBA. It’s the Jon Lester tribute to the NBA Finals road trip.” Each player had his outfit hanging in their locker on Saturday with nicknames on the back of their jackets. “I like Snake (for Jake Arrieta),” reliever Trevor Cahill said. “I remember always having to wear a suit and tie in Arizona and it’s like 100 degrees. I always wondered why we don’t just wear jumpsuits and now we are.” Cahill’s jacket simply says “Trevor.” But the theme is all about comfort. “We’ll be way comfortable on the plane,” Jason Heyward said. Ben Zobrist added: “I guess pajamas might rival it a little bit but a track suit is pretty comfortable. I’m a big fan of this.” It wasn’t too long ago that the Cubs were on their zany suit trip. “These are easy,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “After the zany suits it’s all downhill from there. We’ll probably wear these more often than just this trip.” Maddon likes his players to step outside their comfort zone because he feels if they can get comfortable in an uncomfortable situation it can help them during a big moment in a game.

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