Cubs second baseman Javier Baez

Jake Roth/USA Today Sports

Haugh's Monday Musings: Baez Stating MVP Case

Javier Baez deserves credit for carrying the NL's best team for long stretches.

David Haugh
September 16, 2018 - 9:59 pm

(670 The Score) Monday musings while wondering whose weekend was worse -- Big Ten football coaches who lost games they had no business losing Saturday or any NFL general manager who passed on quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft…

  • With one swing of the bat against the Reds on Friday night, Cubs outfielder Ian Happ removed the doubt that started to build about his place on the playoff roster. Happ’s three-run home run in the seventh inning, one of the biggest hits of the year, gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead that held up in a game they had to win. Before the blast, Happ was hitting only .187 with three homers in the second half of the season, but considering how scarce runs can be lately for the Cubs, coming through in a clutch moment will be hard to forget when choosing the last couple spots of the playoff roster.
  • Javy Baez should emerge from the Cubs’ brutal stretch of 29 games scheduled over 30 days as the frontrunner for the National League Most Valuable Player. Christian Yelich of the Brewers deserves strong consideration. Trevor Story of the Rockies will make a run. Same goes for Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks. But Baez supplementing his power numbers on the recent road trip only will complement his Gold Glove-level defense and instincts that make him among the league’s smartest baserunners. Carrying the NL’s best team for stretches makes a strong argument for Baez too.
  • The Cubs only scored five runs in taking two out of three from the Reds, and their hottest hitter lately is backup catcher Victor Caratini, which explains why concern surrounds the team with the NL’s best record as it heads to Arizona. The playoffs start in two weeks – still enough time for a streaky lineup to get hot.
  • Through Week 2, Mahomes – taken eight spots after Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft – has been as outstanding as any quarterback in the league, with 10 touchdowns passes already. On Sunday, Mahomes threw more touchdowns (six) than incompletions (five). Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, meanwhile, has been as valuable as any quarterback in the league. Both guys could haunt the Bears in different ways for years to come.
  • For $270 million, Northwestern bought one of the nicest football facilities in America – the Walter Athletics Center. With that came expectations as high as the price tag. That means no excuse exists for Northwestern losing at home Saturday night to Akron, a lower-tier Mid-American team. The Wildcats don’t get a pass because of good recruiting or positive media relations. The loss was as unacceptable as any under coach Pat Fitzgerald. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the Wildcats, only that something is after two straight losses at Ryan Field. With this year’s home schedule including Michigan, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, it’s harder to envision the typical Fitz-fueled turnaround Northwestern often manufactures. A team with a potential first-round draft pick at quarterback in Clayton Thorson and depth on defense needs to find a way to avoid MAC upsets at home.
  • Illinois coach Lovie Smith left Soldier Field full of regrets Saturday after blowing a fourth-quarter lead and wishing his quarterback had affected the outcome more in a positive way. Somehow, I think I have written that previous sentence before, during Smith’s days coaching the Bears. This time, his Illinois team gave up 18 fourth-quarter points in a 25-19 loss to South Florida, which sacked overmatched and unproven quarterback M.J. Rivers II five times. Only 21,725 fans turned out on a lovely day along the lakefront – a sad commentary on the enthusiasm for college football in the city.
  • For the second straight Saturday, an inferior opponent took Notre Dame down to the final possession at Notre Dame Stadium, this time Vanderbilt a week after Ball State did do. The Irish survived to improve to 3-0 and remain in the top 10 but, knowing South Bend, I sense an uneasiness on campus despite being unbeaten. This looks more like a top-25 team than a College Football Playoff contender, a program limited by the one-dimensional nature of quarterback Brandon Wimbush, whose mobility makes him Notre Dame’s most dangerous running back but whose inconsistent arm prevents the Irish from developing a deep passing game they will need to beat elite opponents.
  • Speaking of Notre Dame’s quarterback situation, I don’t get coach Brian Kelly’s short-yardage substitution pattern of Ian Book for Wimbush. Book successfully has handed off for touchdowns and also can throw. He has solid all-around skills that eventually might make him a better option as the Notre Dame starter. But until that happens, why remove the offense’s best running threat in the red zone? Why risk the momentum shift? Kelly knows his team better than anybody, but the way the unusual way he substitutes quarterbacks bears monitoring.
  • Give the Blackhawks credit for changing their injury policy to be more specific but even moreso for allowing goalie Corey Crawford to finally acknowledge the concussion that has kept him off the ice since last Dec. 23. In a league in which commissioner Gary Bettman refuses to admit concussions can lead to CTE, Crawford’s openness – endorsed by the Hawks – represented progress. With transparency comes credibility; with information, awareness. But why did it take all offseason for the Hawks and Crawford to reach this point?
  • Reports say former Bull Jimmy Butler will meet with Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and other team officials Monday to discuss his long-term future with the team. The All-Star guard’s contract expires at the end of the upcoming season so, naturally, suspense builds. Hmmm. Drama surrounding Jimmy Butler created by Jimmy Butler. What a surprise. Who could have seen that coming? Only everybody in the Bulls organization, which traded the diva on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft.
  • Daniel Palka hit two more home runs Sunday for the White Sox. He now leads the team with 24 – including six in the ninth inning. He established a White Sox rookie record for homers by a left-handed hitter, breaking a previous tie with Pete Ward, who set the mark 55 years ago. He still has flaws at the plate and struggles defensively in the outfield, but he represents one of the White Sox’s most pleasant surprises. His 24 home runs have come in 374 at-bats – once every 15.5 at-bats. For the sake of comparison, Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs, another lefty slugger with prodigious power, has hit 25 home runs in 401 at-bats – once every 16 at-bats. Schwarber holds the edge in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) – 1.6 to 0.3 – and nobody is saying Palka will mean as much to the White Sox’s future as the Cubs’ former fourth overall draft pick, but one of the most overlooked players in town has injected his name into conversations about the rebuild.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at​​​