Javier Baez leads red-hot Cubs to another win with home run and magical tag

A second-half surge has been common for the Cubs under Joe Maddon and his superstar shortstop played a big role in Saturday's wild 6-5 victory in Wrigley Field over the Padres

With the wind screaming out to dead center field, the Cubs took an early lead, the Padres took the lead in the third, the Cubs tied it, the Padres took a one-run lead and then Javier Baez put the Cubs up for good with this three-run shot: 

The Padres would get one back with a Hunter Renfroe homer, but then something happened that I've never seen before in the thousands of games I've seen in Wrigley Field. The wind had been blowing out at 20 miles per hour. All of a sudden, due to an incoming storm, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees (the mid-90s to mid-70s) and the wind started to blow in at 15 miles per hour. It saved the Cubs a Manny Machado game-tying homer. The crowd actually gave a standing ovation to the weather! It was astounding. 

Still, the Padres had a chance to tie the game in the ninth with Wil Myers drawing a leadoff walk. Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel is slow to home and Myers tried to take second. He basically did steal it, but Baez showed why the nickname El Mago (it means "the magician") is so fitting. Look at this tag: 

Mercy. 

He had to run past Myers to catch the off-line throw and swipe backward without seeing exactly where Myers was. Beautiful. 

I asked Baez at the All-Star Game if the acrobatic tags are his favorite move on the field.

"It depends!" he said with a smile. "It depends on if I'm hitting or running or playing defense. I do really like to tag people. I really like it, but I just like to have fun out there."

It shows. He's always smiling. 

Kimbrel would close things down, and the Cubs are now 7-1 since the All-Star break. They are 10 games over .500 for the first time since June 9 and things really seem to be settling in for them with Yu Darvish throwing well, Kimbrel closing and the offense starting to rake, especially with Kris Bryant locking into 2016 form. 

On Baez, from May 24 through the end of June, he hit just .231/.264/.463 while battling a heel injury. Heading into Saturday, he was hitting .305/.305/.525 in July. 

In the first two games of the series against the Padres, Baez is 5 for 8 with a double, two homers and four RBI. Anthony Rizzo is hot along with Bryant, and with Baez and that's quite the fearsome trio for pitchers to deal with. 

As noted, the Cubs getting hot after the All-Star break under Maddon is an annual tradition. Here are their records after the break: 

2015: 50-25
2016: 50-23
2017: 49-25
2018: 40-30
2019: 7-1 so far

The Cubs have one more game against the Padres before heading to San Francisco for three against the Giants, but then have a tough divisional set: 

  • July 26-28: Three games at MIL
  • July 30-Aug. 1: Three games at STL
  • Aug. 2-4: Three games vs. MIL

It's an opportunity for the Brewers and/or Cardinals to take matters into their own hands and take over first place from the Cubs, but it's also a chance for the Cubs to put some distance between their two biggest contenders in the NL Central. If they play like they have in the second half under Maddon, the latter will happen -- and you can bet El Mago will be right in the middle of it. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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