CHICAGO — He’s already an All-Star, but Javier Baez keeps finding ways to shine even brighter.
Baez tied his career high with his 23rd homer and took over the National League lead with 84 RBIs, helping the Chicago Cubs defeat the San Diego Padres 5-4 on Friday. The infielder also tripled and threw out a runner at home in the eighth inning as the Cubs survived a late bullpen meltdown.
“Javy’s game today was complete,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Too many times in our industry we get hung up just on offensive numbers, but we won that game today on defense.”
Baez, who’s batting .299, is at the top of National League MVP candidates, at least as far as his teammates are concerned.
“His numbers are very good and very consistent offensively,” said Anthony Rizzo, who homered and had three hits. “Defensively, (running) the bases, he does it all.
“If he continues to do what he does … and with a first-place team with a lot of expectations. He’s just carrying the load.”
Baez credits “baseball instinct” for his breakout season.
“It’s just reacting to what you see, to be honest,” Baez said. “I don’t plan it, but as soon as I see it, I just react to it.”
Ben Zobrist drove in two runs for the NL Central-leading Cubs, who entered one game ahead of Milwaukee. Jose Quintana (10-7) allowed one run and four hits in six innings, leaving with a 3-1 lead.
Pedro Strop nearly wasted a 5-2 advantage, allowing Cory Spangenberg’s RBI double and Travis Jankowski’s run-scoring grounder before third baseman David Bote threw out Spangenberg at the plate trying to score on Manuel Margot’s grounder. Baez had thrown out Jankowski at the plate in the eighth when Jankowski tried to score on Hunter Renfroe’s grounder to second.
Strop struck out pinch-hitter Austin Hedges with a man on for his sixth save in nine chances.
“I thought it was a really good battle from our guys,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “We had a lot of really good swings, some good at-bats. They made some big plays on us late in the game.
“Baez had a big one. Bote made a big one (from) third base there at the end.”
Tyson Ross (6-9) gave up three runs and six hits in five innings as the Padres lost for the eighth time in their last nine games. San Diego is an NL-worst 43-69.
Baez led off the second with an opposite-field drive into the right-field bleachers, and Zobrist hit a sacrifice fly in the third.
Christian Villanueva’s 20th homer cut the gap in the fourth, but Zobrist grounded into a run-scoring forceout in the fifth and Rizzo homered off Robert Stock for a 4-1 lead in the seventh.
Spangenberg scored when reliever Steve Cishek threw Margot’s comebacker into center field for an error in an eighth, an inning that ended when Brandon Kintzler — making his second appearance since his trade from Washington — got Villanueva to line out with the bases loaded.
Ian Happ hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom half after Baez’s triple.
LF Wil Myers was held out with a bruised left foot, sustained when he fouled off a pitch in sixth inning on Thursday. X-rays were negative and Myers was scheduled for an MRI and CT scan on Friday. Myers has missed 57 games this season with injuries. “I think he’s got a bone bruise on his foot, no fractures,” Green said.
Cubs: Chicago placed LHP Brian Duensing on the 10-day DL with left shoulder inflammation and recalled lefty Randy Rosario from Triple-A Iowa for the fourth time this season. Rosario entered in the eighth and walked Eric Hosmer, his only batter. … Manager Joe Maddon said INF Kris Bryant (left shoulder inflammation) is feeling stronger. Bryant has been out since July 23 with a recurrence of the injury that affects his swing follow-through. … RHP Yu Darvish (right triceps tendinitis, elbow impingement) is scheduled to toss a bullpen session on Saturday.
Padres LHP Joey Lucchesi (5-6, 3.74) faces Cubs RHP Kyle Hendricks (7-9, 3.97) on Saturday.