Cubs

What can Cubs expect from Indians ace Corey Kluber on short rest in Game 4?

What can Cubs expect from Indians ace Corey Kluber on short rest in Game 4?

Before Game 2 of the World Series, the only game the Cleveland Indians lost in the 2016 playoffs was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, which ace Corey Kluber started on three days rest. 

Kluber wasn’t altogether ineffective in that 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing two runs on our hits with two walks, seven strikeouts and one home run in five innings (those are the only two runs he's allowed in the playoffs). He only threw 89 pitches in that game; three days before, he fired 100 in Game 1 of the ALCS. But beyond the results, how different was Kluber as a pitcher on three days rest?

“Last time was my first time doing it, so I didn't know what to expect how I was going to feel,” Kluber said Friday. “Now that I do know that I felt fine, it's just a matter of using those three days to recover. I'll be fine tomorrow and then just go out there and pitch.”

Velocity-wise, Kluber didn’t experience a drop-off on three days rest as compared to the six days he had off before the World Series: He actually threw his two-seam sinker and four-seism fastball slightly harder against the Blue Jays than he did against the Cubs, according to TexasLeaguers.com. The spin rate on his two-seam sinker was actually higher on three days rest than it was in his first World Series start, too (according to MLB.com, “most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates.”).

So the Cubs can certainly expect the same stuff they saw from Kluber in Game 1. But the biggest difference between short rest Kluber and regular/extended rest Kluber was his effectiveness throwing that sinker for strikes.

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Against the Cubs, Kluber threw 24 of his 30 sinkers for strikes, and the Cubs only put five of those in play. It was a masterful showing of how to pitch a patient lineup that hadn’t seen him in 2016, with the movement on that pitch and the threat of him mixing in an effective curveball and slider breezily working through the Cubs’ lineup over six innings. 

But against Toronto, Kluber frequently missed low with his sinker (he had five called below the strike zone for balls) and gave up a home run on one to right-hander Josh Donaldson. Only nine of the 33 sinkers he threw were called strikes, compared to 14 sinkers called for strikes against the Cubs. 

Both Kluber and the Cubs will make adjustments heading into Game 4, with Kluber having a better idea of how to prepare on three days’ rest and the Cubs lineup having a better idea of the action on Kluber’s pitches. But no matter how many days off he’s had, Kluber is one of the very best pitchers in baseball, and the Cubs’ best shot at getting to him Saturday night looks to be if he’s not as pinpoint with his sinker. 

“The guys got to see him, so there won't be as much of a surprise the next time he pitches,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to — i.e. (Clayton) Kershaw, the first game he pitched here, extremely sharp with everything. The next game we saw him not as sharp. So you just don't know. It's difficult for pitchers to replicate time after time, especially against the same team, especially with shorter rest to be as sharp. But he may be. Not that it's an advantage, only in the sense that we have seen him relatively just a couple days ago.

“So hopefully that works to our advantage. But you've got to wait until the game's actually played to find out how sharp he is.”

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.”