Why Cubs will face Cleveland's non-traditional leadoff man Carlos Santana in Game 2

Why Cubs will face Cleveland's non-traditional leadoff man Carlos Santana in Game 2

CLEVELAND — Carlos Santana is far from a prototypical leadoff hitter, standing a stout 5-foot-11, 210 pounds with only five stolen bases to his name in 2016. But while he doesn’t fit the traditional mold, the Cleveland Indians catcher/first baseman/designated hitter has been an effective weapon hitting first in Terry Francona’s lineup this year. 

Santana started 85 games as a leadoff hitter in 2016 and posted a .385 on-base percentage with 19 home runs and more walks (67) than strikeouts (60) in those games. Specifically when he was the first batter of the game, Santana hit .260/.365/.521 with five home runs and four doubles, consistently setting the table for an Indians lineup that scored the second most runs in the American League in the regular season. 

So it’s no surprise that Santana, a switch hitter, is leading off as the Indians’ designated hitter for Game 2 of the World Series against the Cubs. 

“He doesn’t try to force anything, waits on his pitch and when he gets it he knocks it out of the park,” Indians outfielder Coco Crisp, who himself has led off 853 games in his 15-year career, said. “I think a few teams have gone from the typical leadoff hitter, just straight base-stealer, small-ball guy and have moved their big guys to the front of the lineup. It’s a good move but you also have to have somebody like ‘Los with his ability to not only hit the long ball but be a leadoff hitter. Sometimes it’s hard to find guys who can do both and he does a great job.”

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What Crisp was most impressed with has been Santana not striking out much while retaining the power that led him to slam 34 home runs in the regular season. Only four players with at least 30 home runs had lower strikeout rates than Santana (14.4 percent), and he averaged seeing 4.1 pitches per plate appearance when leading off, so at the least he regularly worked counts and allowed the rest of the Indians’ order to see some pitches in the first inning. 

“For Tito to throw him in the leadoff spot, I’m glad he did that because it makes perfect sense,” Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, who led off Game 1 of the World Series, said. “When he’s getting on base and Kip’s hitting well and Lindor, and what really gets you is when the lineup turns over, now you gotta face Santana, who had what, 34 home runs this year and a number of RBIs. He’s not an easy out and that just makes it that much tougher when the lineup is turned over.”

Santana never hit leadoff before 2016, and Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said the 30-year-old was a bit surprised when Francona told him during spring training he could wind up hitting first during the season. But Santana has embraced the role, which was partly made possible by the presence of having Mike Napoli and his 34 home runs hitting in the middle of the order. 

“I think it was a great idea,” Van Burkleo said. “I told him, you’re leading off, you’re getting more at-bats throughout the season then you normally would, so there’s more opportunities to do some things. He’s had a great year.

So when Jake Arrieta delivers his first pitch of Game 2, he won’t be dealing with a guy who relies mostly on speed to get on base and make things happen. He’ll be dealing with a premier power hitter who’s able to get on base quite a bit — and who’s had plenty of success hitting first in 2016. 

“I think this team is well-balanced, which makes that an option,” Crisp said. “You don’t necessarily have to have him and Nap hitting behind each other all the team with 30 and 30 (home runs, you can kind of spread it out.”

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants