DENVER — Will Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon ride his hot hands at the top of the lineup? He addressed that issue after a convincing victory — once again in rain-soaked conditions for his team — at Coors Field.
After five postponements for the Cubs this month because of weather, Maddon wanted to get Friday night’s game in simply because the Cubs played so well the day before in beating the Cardinals 8-5. And it might be only two games, but Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez have been the table-setters the Cubs have been missing essentially since Dexter Fowler departed via free agency after the World Series in 2016.
The Cubs have scored 24 runs in two days — including the 16-5 win over the Rockies on Friday — with Almora and Baez in the middle of everything.
“We pretty much have similar swings,” Baez said after his four-hit night. “I see his [Almora’s] approach and how they pitch to him. Obviously, he’s a fastball hitter and always ready to hit like me.”
It’s true. Almora and Baez aren’t your quintessential top-of-the order hitters. Neither likes to see pitches and both are susceptible to those down-and-away sliders. But when they make contact, as they have the past two days, it sets Chicago’s offense up for a dominant game.
“Forget about results,” Almora said after his career-high four hits. “It’s about having fun and doing things to help the team, no matter what.”
Amora and Baez are using the whole field, setting the tone in Friday’s first inning when Baez went deep to right after Almora opened the game with a single. They were just getting started, combining to go 8-for-12 with five RBIs and six runs scored.
“How about Albert’s base hits to the right side,” Maddon said. “At the end of last year, the next level for Albert was to lay off the bad slider down and away. Not chase against righties. He’s doing that.”
The same could be said for Baez, who is playing at an MVP level. Between his baserunning, defense and now his offensive contributions, he could challenge for that very award this season. But right now, it’s about the Cubs and what they desperately need at the top of the order. Friday was the first time in the first 17 games Maddon used the same lineup on back-to-back days. It’s simply not the norm for him in April, when he likes to get his whole team involved. Almora and Baez will get the call at the top again Saturday, but there are no guarantees after that — much to the dismay of many fans, no doubt.
“You are going to see everyone play,” Maddon said. “I hate to disappoint people, but everyone is going to play. And they’re all going to play well. I promise.”
It might or might not be a promise he can keep, as veteran Ben Zobrist is going on the disabled list because of a back ailment, and youngster Ian Happ is already reworking his swing after a slew of strikeouts to start the season. It means Almora and Baez might get that run at the top of the order after all. Baez is staying up there for sure.
“We’ve all seen Javy [and] his potential,” Almora said. “I’m just glad I can be on base for him or on the top step ready after he comes back in after hitting a homer. We’re just feeding off each other.”
The same can be said for the entire team. The Cubs tied a 2018 nine-inning mark with eight opposite-field hits Friday, one day after earning seven by going the other way. There have been countless balls up the middle as well. It’s way early, but a transformation on offense the Cubs have been searching for could finally be at hand, with Almora and Baez leading the way.
“That’s how baseball is,” Almora said. “That’s how long innings become effective. Once someone hits, it’s addictive. That’s huge in baseball. … We’re having so much fun. No matter what our results personally are, as a team, we’re doing a great job of turning the page really quick if we’re not having success.”
For at least one more day, the Cubs’ new daily double at the top of the lineup will get a chance again to wreak some more havoc.
“I wanted to not get rained out tonight because I really wanted to see the follow-up [to Thursday’s victory],” Maddon said, still in his soaked Cubs jacket. “Albert and Javy set the tone. I love the approach.”