Cubs infielder Javier Baez

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Bernstein: How Will Javier Baez Handle New Urgency?

The Cubs' fizzle in 2018 dovetailed with Baez tiring down the stretch.

Dan Bernstein
February 20, 2019 - 3:10 pm

(670 The Score) Javier Baez was the best player on the Cubs last year, and it was no coincidence that the team ran out of gas when he did. The Cubs' lifeless finishing kick featured a concurrent fizzle from the National League MVP runner-up, an issue he now attributes in part to trying too hard on the basepaths in a quest for a personal statistical milestone.

"I kind of did get a little tired," Baez told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. "A lot had to do with running the bases and (trying to) get 30 (stolen bases). After the first half, all the teams started to worry about me on the bases, so I was working more and had a lot of pressure on me. I was trying to do too much in the last month. I’ll try to make the adjustment on that and try to control myself when I can."

How this was allowed to happen, we'll never know, but it's curious that the Cubs let their best player wear himself out in such a fashion when they needed him as close to the peak of his abilities as possible. It can't be a lack of awareness -- they track and monitor absolutely every aspect of everything, after all -- so it might be that a broken offense needed to maximize any rare baserunner they could find, risking the downside of an out for the benefit of better scoring position.

This now has the added context of president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's latest marching orders being channeled through manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff. Epstein concluded the 2018 season by calling the Cubs "complacent" and demanding "assertiveness," a "complete sense of urgency," "killer instinct" and "being completely on a mission every day."

Baez agrees and is now going to find some kind of balance between budgeting his resources and adhering to the new standards.

"Last year, I didn’t run full speed to first base and I would get back to the dugout and no one would say anything," Baez said. "This year, if I don’t do it, someone will hopefully say something. It’s not to show you up. It’s to make our team better."

Wait ... what?

I'd hope a newly rededicated Baez would know if he's running full speed or not, without needing anyone to call him out or remind him. And won't all the extra grindiness and hustle for show also make him tired? It's all making my head spin, this ongoing and inherently conflicted urgency narrative in a sport one can't really play harder to be maximally effective, especially over six or seven months.

So go hard, Javy. Except don't be tired in September again and don't pull a hamstring.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​