SportsMondayWednesday: On The Road To The All-Star Game

Good to see Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana step up for the Cubs the last two days. But at this point I think I might be able to shut out the Giants for three innings. And these days every time I try to make an overhand throw it feels like my arm is about to fall off.

This is a San Francisco lineup, after all, that recently scored all of three runs in three days - in Coors Field.

Of course, this is a Cubs lineup that was hot, hot, hot heading into this three-game series and then proceeded to score one run in 11 innings on Monday and was shut out for six frames by retread extraordinaire Derek Holland last night. The team finally broke through for a pair in the seventh and that held up for a big win.

Bottom line is if the Cubs can split their six games this week on the West Coast heading into the All-Star break, they should be thrilled. And they are a third of the way there heading into this afternoon finale with the Giants.

It was clear in the series opener that Anthony Rizzo is ready to step away for a while. The first baseman who went almost the equivalent of a season without an error from last year into this one had two miscues in one inning to give the Giants the one run they needed to take the game to extras and eventually outlast the visitors in the series opener.

Before the San Francisco cool down (and anyone who has experienced that city's year-round climate knows that such a thing is particularly appropriate), the Cubs offense in general was cruising along with stellar numbers. Of course the on-base percentages are more important than the batting averages, but in that first game against the Giants, the Cubs sent up hitter after hitter - with the exception of Rizzo - who was batting above .280.

And while early this week most of the attention went to the All-Star snub of Tampa pitcher Blake Snell, more focus should have been on fans actually stepping up and rewarding a couple deserving Cubs with late surges at the ballot box and spots in the starting lineup.

Javy Baez and Willson Contreras had trailed in All-Star voting at second base and catcher from the start. But when the final tallies were announced, both had earned starting nods. After Tuesday's action they were hitting .291 and .289, respectively. More importantly, Baez continued to lead the team with an .883 on-base-plus slugging number and Contreras (.823) wasn't far behind.

Both players contribute such good defense that stellar offensive numbers aren't necessarily required for them to deserve All-Star status. But those numbers certainly don't hurt, especially with Rizzo slumping and Kris Bryant having an average season even before missing two weeks with another stupid injury.

Bryant was sidelined after he hurt his shoulder sliding into first. It has been said a million times before but must now be said again: Diving into first is stupid not just because players expose themselves to an unacceptable level of injury likelihood but also because it doesn't even work, i.e., they don't get there faster. Kris, for the love of all that is holy, stop head-first sliding into bases! Especially first!

Back to Baez: There was some commentary in the aftermath of the Giants win on Monday about fans having to take the "good with the bad" with his play. The reference was to his bobble of the ball and hesitation leading to Alex Hansen managing to sprint home from third after the second of Rizzo's errors.

Time to get this straight once and for all: There is no longer "good with the bad" with Baez. His offensive numbers speak for themselves and on defense, well, only a person who doesn't watch the Cubs consistently thinks Baez's bad plays match up with the good. Last year and then especially this year, Baez took a massive step up. He actually makes more heads-up plays to steal outs or bases (he now has 17 on the year) than anyone else in baseball.

Baez's misplay on Monday was the exception that proves the rule. It was shocking because Cubs fans couldn't remember the last time he had made a play like that this season. He is a richly deserving All-Star, and because he will be in the Home Run Derby, I will probably watch for the first time in forever (unless Chris Berman is still doing the broadcast; I know I can't take that guy and his "Back, back, back, back . . . " garbage for more than a few minutes).

Anyway, All-Star fun awaits the Cubs in a big way. Hopefully they can grab a few more Ws on the way there.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays, but sometimes on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. He welcomes your comments.

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