Cubs offense absent in 'non-fortuitous' Crosstown opener


Cubs offense absent in 'non-fortuitous' Crosstown opener

Well, Cubs hitters were certainly patient, but it didn't matter much.

The Cubs walked seven times, but managed just three hits in the Crosstown Cup opener Friday, losing to the White Sox 1-0 in front of 41,580 fans at Wrigley Field.

Forget the home plate umpire's strike zone (which had Cubs hitters frustrated all day), the North Siders still didn't do anything with the bats against Sox rookie Carlos Rodon, who walked six hitters in six innings of work.

The Cubs hurt themselves, hitting into five double plays on the afternoon, the first time they've done that since Sept. 4, 2007.

"A little non-fortuitous today in certain moments," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That just happens. We'll show up tomorrow, I promise. We'll be ready to play again.

"Tough loss - two in a row. But that's how this thing works sometimes."

[MORE: Cubs vs. White Sox: What if Joe Maddon managed on the South Side?]

Kyle Hendricks was spectacular for the Cubs on the mound, tossing seven shutout innings, allowing just five hits. He also collected one of the three Cubs hits with a third-inning single to right field.

"We couldn't get any luck," Hendricks said. "Couldn't push a big hit across there at any point. It happens. We have those kinds of days, but I can only focus on what I can control."

Hector Rondon allowed the only run when he hit Emilio Bonifacio with a pitch and Bonifacio then stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a fly ball to the outfield.

Apart from Hendricks' single, Jorge Soler had an infield single and Chris Coghlan had a pinch-hit single to right field to represent the rest of the North Siders' offense.

Dexter Fowler struck out looking three times as both he and Starlin Castro had several instances where they thought they had drawn a walk, but wound up striking out instead, adding to the Cubs' offensive woes.

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"Oh, you're always frustrated when you don't get a job done," Maddon said. "There's always that sense of frustration, but we'll be fine."

Fowler never actually called out the umpire in his brief postgame media stint, but it didn't take a Rhodes scholar to read between the lines.

"I dunno, man. Just trying to go out and take good ABs and take it one AB at a time," he said. "You know, whatever happens, happens.

"I looked at the video. But he made the call, so whatever he calls, that's what goes. ... We've hit the ball hard. Just really haven't had any luck. We just gotta keep swinging."

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”