Cubs keeping an eye on Albert Almora and Javier Baez


Cubs keeping an eye on Albert Almora and Javier Baez

The Cubs don’t know how all these pieces are going to fit together, which makes 2015 a big year for The Plan.

The Cubs moved Albert Almora to the seven-day disabled list on Tuesday, but didn’t sound concerned about the Double-A Tennessee centerfielder. The organization followed concussion protocol after Almora, a gifted defender, hit his head against the wall trying to make a catch during Monday’s game.

Almora – the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration in 2012 and yet another Scott Boras client – felt like he was on the verge of a breakthrough year in spring training.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon preaching patience for Jorge Soler]

Almora hit .345 (10-for-29) in the Cactus League and kept riding that momentum in the Southern League. He’s hitting .297 at Tennessee and showing some more patience, walking five times through 16 games at Tennessee. He walked twice during 36 games with the Double-A affiliate last year.

The Cubs viewed that discipline and understanding as part of the next stage of Almora’s natural development. He only turned 21 two weeks ago and has already shown signs of elite defensive skills.

Epstein essentially ruled out the idea of Javier Baez playing the outfield when a reporter floated that idea before Addison Russell’s Wrigley Field debut on Monday night.

“That’s thinking too far ahead,” Epstein said. “We got a lot of guys with a lot of versatility. Given that, there’s the ability for all our core guys to fit on the field together at the same time – if we get to a point where they’re all up here together.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“But that’s thinking really far in the future right now. We just make sure guys continue to have the ability to play multiple positions. And in Javy’s case, get him back on the field.”

Baez took an extended leave of absence after his 21-year-old sister, Noely, died on April 8. At that point, Triple-A Iowa’s season hadn’t started yet. Baez recently reported to the team’s complex in Mesa, Ariz.

“Right now, the focus is just getting Javy back to game-ready,” Epstein said. “He’s working hard in Arizona. He’s getting a lot closer. He’s going to play a lot of second base and mix in some shortstop.”

In terms of a timetable for rejoining Iowa, Epstein said: “There’s a good chance that we’re talking days, not weeks.”

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night


Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: