Jason Heyward was signed to a massive contract by the Chicago Cubs last offseason, and many thought that he was the final piece to the World Series puzzle. Unfortunately, his first regular season with the Cubs didn’t go as the team had planned and he struggled in a major way.
Throughout the course of the 2016 MLB regular season, Heyward compiled a.230 batting average to go along with seven home runs and 49 RBIs. That certainly wasn’t what Theo Epstein and company were expecting. Despite the low numbers, Heyward has stuck in Joe Maddon’s starting lineup.
Now that the Cubs have knocked off the San Francisco Giants, could Jason Heyward by the Cubs’ main World Series X-Factor?
During the series against the Giants, Heyward put together a miserable.083 batting average to go along with no home runs or RBI’s. He did score two runs in the series, which both proved to be valuable.
Some may be wondering how Heyward could be the main X-Factor with the struggles that he has had. It is quite simply, Heyward’s defensive presence and potential to turn things around at the plate are intriguing. The odds are against him to figure out his bat struggles this late in the year, but he may just surprise his critics.
His defensive may be the most mentioned positive in his game this season, but his base-running has been a key for the Cubs as well.
Last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, there was no question that he was one of their offensive leaders. He hit for a.293 batting average to go along with 13 home runs and 60 RBI’s. Heyward was a major issue for the Cubs in the postseason, which sparked much of their interest in free agency.
At 27-years-old, Heyward has had a ton of pressure on his shoulders after signing his massive deal. It was obvious that he felt the pressure and up until recently has been a topic of disappointment for the Cubs.
Heyward no longer has the spotlight on his back, nor is he a feared player when he steps up to the plate.
Despite the struggles, Heyward has the potential to break out of his slump and find his groove. There is no denying that Heyward has been a solid hitter throughout his career up to this season. He earned the contract that was given to him for a reason and the Cubs still believe that he can get back on track.
Even with his bat slumping, Maddon has been adamant about Heyward’s impact on games. He has played excellent baseball in right field and was a starter in each of the Cubs’ three victories over the Giants in the NLDS. It may be a coincidence, but the one game that he didn’t start, the Cubs ended up losing.
Maddon talked about Heyward’s struggles and maintained that patience is key and that Heyward will come out of his slump.
“With a player like him, it’s just to be patient,” Maddon said. “In some ways, it’s not unlike when (Jon Lester) got off to a tough start last year and then did come on at the end of the year. To a certain extent, the same thing has happened with Jason. He’s come on a lot more toward the latter part of the season. I don’t know what it’s like to be in that particular position regarding that free-agent moment and getting that kind of attention.”
There are very few people around the game of baseball that can read players as well as Maddon does.
Looking ahead to the Cubs’ NLCS series against the winner of the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers series, Heyward will be asked to step up. He isn’t going to be asked to record a.300 batting average, but finding a way to hit around.250 is exactly what the Cubs are going to need from him.
Heyward is still confident that he made the right choice when he signed with the Cubs. He also talked about not dwelling on the struggles that he has had.
“At the end of the year, you look up and then you see what you have from it. Don’t really put too much stock into one day or the past or get ahead of yourself.”
All of that being said, Heyward isn’t expected to be a huge presence in the NLCS, which is exactly why fans should keep an eye on him.
If Heyward can get his head on straight and come through with solid at-bats throughout the rest of the postseason, the Cubs are going to be extremely tough to beat. That may be a big “if,” but there is no denying the talent that Heyward possesses and his success from last year cannot be taken away from him.
Can Heyward be the X-Factor for the Cubs’ World Series hopes? Absolutely. He has the potential to get hot at any time and opposing pitching staffs are viewing him as an afterthought about this point in the season.
Are we guaranteeing that Heyward will break out with a huge postseason from this point on? No, but we certainly wouldn’t put it past the talented outfielder. Either way, his defensive abilities will be a huge key for the Cubs moving forward in their chase to break the curse.
Do you think Jason Heyward can be the main X-Factor for the Chicago Cubs’ World Series hopes? Do you think the Cubs made a mistake by signing Heyward? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!
[Featured Image by Ryan Kang/AP Images]