CHICAGO -- It was a year ago at this time that Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez had his coming-out party on the national stage en route to winning co-MVP honors in the National League Championship Series.
But his encore performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers this year isn't exactly going as planned. Baez is 0-for-5 with three strikeouts through the first two games. That makes him 0-for-19 this postseason, the second-longest hitless streak to begin the playoffs in franchise history.
"You're not going to be perfect," teammate Albert Almora Jr. said. "You're going to have your week or two that you're not feeling at your best. I know I went through it. The way he's handling it, he's not bringing anybody down. On the contrary, I actually saw -- one of the first guys I saw when I looked into the dugout when I hit the home run [in Game 1] was him cheering."
Baez isn't the only award winner who isn't hitting: 2016 regular-season MVP Kris Bryant is 1-for-8 in the series, and 2017 Hank Aaron Award finalist (for best offensive players) Anthony Rizzo is 0-for-6. But the latter two players helped the Cubs win their first-round series against the Washington Nationals, while Baez has yet to get going.
"We've just executed," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Monday. "Javy is a very talented player. He's dangerous in the batter's box. But I think that it goes with any player, not to get into specifics, but when our guys execute, we have a very good chance of getting guys out."
Roberts doesn't have to go into specifics; the numbers tell the story. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Nationals and Dodgers have been pitching Baez low, both in and out of the strike zone. Seven of the eight strike-three pitches against him have been outside the zone, and five of them have been below the strike zone. Of the 23 pitches he has swung at down low, in or out of the strike zone, Baez has put just one in play. That has led many to wonder if the bench would be a better place for Baez to start Game 3.
"We'll see how it plays when [Yu] Darvish pitches," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll take a look at that."
Maddon was quick to point out that Baez's stellar defense against Washington helped the Cubs advance out of the first round. But with his team producing so little offense this postseason -- especially against the Dodgers -- the Cubs need to load up with anyone who gives them a chance to score. That could mean Ian Happ or Tommy La Stella starting at second base.
"I am considering one or maybe two little items [changes]," Maddon said.
Of course, he could be talking about Jason Heyward or several other players, as the Cubs have all seemingly struggled at the plate. Bryant and Rizzo have combined to strike out 21 times this postseason, but only two K's have ended on fastballs. It's the slow stuff that the dynamic duo are swinging through. Rizzo, for example, is 1-for-15 in at-bats ending with off-speed pitches.
"I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience," Maddon said. "So you've got to be patient right now. You've got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you."
Of course, Maddon won't put all the same guys out there, though he did like an early walk by Baez in Game 2, even if it led to nothing later. It's at least a sign for the manager.
"I really thought that would play better after that [walk]," Maddon said. "And even he hit a fly ball to center field in the latter part of the game. ... A lot of times that starts with the walk. He's the kind of guy that it just takes one at-bat to get him rolling in the right direction."
Almora added about Baez: "I don't want to speak for him, but that guy has the most confidence that I've seen in a player. It's really special to see. Even now. He's not where he wants to be, obviously. We all know that. He knows that. But the smile on his face, he comes here to work, and he's ready to go."
The Cubs need more than smiles to get back in the series. Last year in the NLCS, it was a bunt hit by Ben Zobrist that helped turn the tide. Will they have a similar moment as the series shifts to Wrigley Field? Baez and his teammates can't do much worse than the showing they had in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers' bullpen didn't give up a hit or walk the first two nights.
Maddon might not run out of patience, but he could run out of games if his key players don't show up soon.
"They got us twice. We'll be ready to play [Tuesday] night," Maddon said.
The Cubs better be.