Cubs

Cubs-Dodgers Game 2 prediction: Baby steps for Cubs offense

Cubs-Dodgers Game 2 prediction: Baby steps for Cubs offense

Everything seemed awfully rosy in the first few innings for the Cubs Saturday night.

They were having good at-bats off Clayton Kershaw - including a two-run homer from Albert Almora Jr. - and Jose Quintana was dealing.

But everything changed quickly and all the Cubs' postseason issues reared their ugly head: too many walks, bullpen unreliability, punchless offense.

The Cubs didn't have a baserunner the last 2/3 of the game and had absolutely no answer for the Dodgers bullpen.

But the offense will break out at some point. Theo Epstein was sure of that and there's no reason not to think the same. 

The Cubs had baseball's best offense in the second half of the season, averaging 5.7 runs per game while posting a .273/.352/.459 slash line with an .811 OPS. 

The Cubs hitters are simply too good to keep having results this poor. They scored nine runs in Game 5 of the NLDS, but most of those without a hit thanks to a slew of Washington errors. 

In the other five games of the postseason, the Cubs have just 10 runs, averaging two runs a game.

Bullpen issues aside, that is not a good recipe for success.

The Cubs offense struggled through the first few games of the postseason last fall before eventually breaking out at Dodger Stadium in L.A. They clearly are hoping that is in the cards once again Sunday evening.

Here's the lineup they'll roll with as they face Rich Hill:

1. Jon Jay - LF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Jason Heyward - RF
8. Javy Baez - 2B
9. Jon Lester - P

The Cubs need more from every offensive player, but they especially need to see their big boppers step up. Bryant, Rizzo and Contreras have been awfully quiet the last few games.

Prediction

Cubs 4, Dodgers 2

This isn't the breakout game for the Cubs offense, but they had so many good at-bats early in Saturday's game, I bet they get back to that point and cash in a bit more in Game 2.

Baby steps. Then the offense really finds its groove again later this week at Wrigley Field.

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.”