Javier Baez helped the Chicago Cubs grab victory from the jaws of defeat Sunday. The manner in which he accomplished this has become rather familiar, too.
The 26-year-old clubbed a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning, helping the Cubs transform a one-run deficit to what eventually became a two-run victory.
This was Baez’s 19th dinger of the season, and it actually came on an 0-2 count. Having his back against the wall before slugging a ball into the stands has happened quite a bit for the shortstop in 2019.
In fact, it was the ninth such homer he’s hit this season, meaning that just about half of his total homers have come with two strikes. As you can imagine, he’s done this more than a number of big-league clubs, while tying a handful of others at the same time:
Baez’s success with two strikes has come with more than just home runs. While his 29.8% strikeout rate is a noticeable increase over last season’s 25.9% mark, he’s also had his fair share of success:
After a true breakout performance in 2018 where he slugged 34 homers with 111 RBI, 101 runs scored, and a 131 wRC+, Baez is doing more of the same in 2019. Through 322 plate appearances, he’s slashing .284/.323/.551 with 19 dingers, 51 RBI, 50 runs scored, and a 122 wRC+.
Although both his ground-ball rate (49.0% to 45.6%) and line-drive rate (22.1% to 18.0%) have gotten worse, he’s paired that with a drastically improved infield-fly rate (11.4% to 2.9%) and hard-hit rate (35.8% to 44.7%). Watching his quality of contact climb higher is especially important since his rate of contact has gone down about three percentage points.
The power has remained, though — Baez posted a .264 ISO in 2018, a number that is up at .267 thus far in 2019. He’s also set a new single-season career high for homers in each of the last three years (14 in 2016, 23 in 2017, 34 in 2018), so he’s at least giving himself a shot to make it four in a row.
Chicago enters Monday’s action with just a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, with the St. Louis Cardinals not far behind. It’ll be a dogfight all the way until the end, so every bit of production from the Cubs’ roster will be crucial. The offense has been fortified by Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, and Anthony Rizzo, and they must continue carrying the load heading into summer if the club wants to play baseball in October once again.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. Check those out and more helpful tips on sports blogging at his website.