Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist deliver at top of Cubs' lineup to sink Mets

ByJesse Rogers ESPN logo
Friday, June 1, 2018

NEW YORK -- You know it's a good night on offense for the Chicago Cubs when infielder Javy Baez earns a free pass and the Cubs actually get a runner home from third base with less than two out.

Both occurrences took place Thursday night in Chicago's 5-1 victory over the New York Mets as what can sometimes be considered an up-and-down offensive attack has now scored four or more runs in 10 of 13 games.

The latest Cub to heat up on offense is much-maligned outfielder Jason Heyward. After another multihit night, he's 8-for-14 on the team's current road trip -- but it was a ground ball to second with men on second and third and none out in the top of the seventh inning that got his manager most excited.

"I love the ground ball to second, RBI," Joe Maddon said after the game. "Second and third, I've been waiting for that play. I always call that the double jeopardy. Move 'em over and get him in. That gets so overlooked in the scheme of things. It was outstanding."

You'll excuse the manager's excitement over a ground ball to score a run when you understand how difficult doing that has been for his team over the past few seasons. Coming into the night, the Cubs ranked 27th in baseball bringing a man home from third with less than two out. Improving in that area has been a focus for everyone from the front office to two different hitting coaches. Heyward showed it can be done.

"I wasn't trying to do too much there," Heyward said. "Guy was making good pitches, was trying to fight him off, take the bad ones, it worked out that way. It's nice to cash in there."

Heyward has been making a ton of contact lately, having struck out just once since May 18. It got him moved all the way up to second in the lineup for the first time since July 3, 2016.

"It's the right time to give it a whirl," Maddon said before the game.

With Ben Zobrist batting leadoff -- he missed the cycle by a triple -- the 1-2 combination in the order was deadly Thursday. Zobrist and Heyward were a combined 5-for-10 with three runs driven in.

It was the 47th different batting order Maddon has used this season, which can be a confusing notion for many fans, who want to see consistency. Maddon doesn't care. He'll continue to tinker and rotate his players in and out.

"I can't emphasize enough, for those on Twitter asking these questions, it's really important to balance all these guys' playing time, and if you look at their at-bats right now, it's pretty even," Maddon said before the game.

He has ammunition to back up his strategy as the Cubs rank high in many offensive categories, while the two spots in the order that create the most angst -- first and second -- are doing just fine, no matter who hits there. The Cubs rank third in the National League in on-base percentage from their leadoff spot and first from the No. 2 hole.

"When I started playing, the game wasn't moving like that," Heyward said of the varied lineups. "Zobrist has played for Joe so he's more accustomed to it. I wasn't accustomed to it. It's different but now, for us, you never know what it's going to be and we just try to go out there and win."

Forty-seven different lineups before June 1 sounds like a lot, but in reality eight teams in the NL have used more than the Cubs this season.

Everyone is doing it. In any case, Maddon is set in his ways, as his desire is always to have his teams fresh in the second half. Maddon is 45 games over .500 in the month of August since 2009.

And if playing some small ball wasn't enough for the manager, watching Baez take a walk topped off the night. It was just his third unintentional walk of the season and first since April 7, a span of 183 plate appearances.

"That ball [ball four] almost hit me, that's why I walked," Baez said with a smile. "I don't go out looking for a walk. As long as the pitch is there I'm swinging."

Maddon recognized the achievement and wanted to give Baez his due.

"We forgot to get the ball," the manager deadpanned.

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