Cubs

Cubs put on a home run clinic to sweep Diamondbacks

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Cubs put on a home run clinic to sweep Diamondbacks

Kris Bryant hit a 495-foot homer, but it wasn't even the biggest blast of the day for the Cubs.

Miguel Montero hit a grand slam and Jonathan Herrera hit a pinch-hit homer in the sixth as the Cubs (78-57) finished off a sweep of the Diamondbacks (65-72) with a 6-4 victory in front of 41,183 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday.

Montero - whom the Cubs acquired from Arizona over the winter - had a single and a walk against his former team apart from the game-winning grand slam that followed a Bryant walk in the sixth.

"Every win is important," Montero said. "At this point, you can't really think of other things. You just have to think about winning and the rest will take care of itself."

Bryant got things started with his record-setting shot in the fifth inning, crushing an 0-2 pitch from Arizona starter Rubby De La Rosa off the top of the video board in left field.

[WATCH: Kris Bryant puts the rest of baseball to shame with absurd homer]

Kyle Hendricks started for the Cubs and allowed only one run in five innings, but the game was still tied when he exited so Justin Grimm earned the win.

The Diamondbacks mounted a little rally in the bottom of the ninth as former Cub Welington Castillo homered and then Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed hit a two-run blast three batters later.

The Cubs are 17-4 at home over their last 21 games and have hit homers in 15 straight contests at Wrigley Field.

Bryant and the Cubs also lead the majors with 48 homers over their last 24 games, dating back to Aug. 12.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs head to St. Louis Monday for an important three-game series against the Cardinals, riding the momentum from this sweep.

"It's big. You want to go in with momentum," Hendricks said. "We've been playing well lately, so just winning ballgames is huge. Keeps the morale up around and just going in there with some momentum is good for us."

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.”