Cubs

How Albert Almora Jr. became part of the World Series puzzle for Cubs

How Albert Almora Jr. became part of the World Series puzzle for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Theory and reality collided for the Cubs in the 10th inning, when Kris Bryant drove Bryan Shaw's 94.8 mph fastball out to Progressive Field's warning track. Pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr. alertly hustled from first base as soon as Cleveland Indians center fielder Rajai Davis caught it in front of the KeyBank sign.   
 
Almora had already launched his body into a textbook slide — his left arm raised in the air and his right hand scraping the dirt — before Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor even caught the ball several feet off second base.
 
"Tagging is Almora with great baserunning," Fox play-by-play man Joe Buck told 40 million World Series viewers, making this epic Game 7 Major League Baseball's most-watched TV event in 25 years.   
 
That moment of clarity — after the fog of a 17-minute rain delay and potentially the most devastating collapse in franchise history — illustrated why Almora became the first player drafted by the Theo Epstein administration in 2012. The Cubs projected the baseball IQ and self-confidence sharpened by a strong Cuban-American family and from playing on Team USA and year-round in South Florida.   
 
"Just those intangibles," new Cubs outfielder Jon Jay said. "Maybe he picked that up growing up in Miami, where baseball is serious. We were taught the fundamentals of the game — do the little things right — and everything was so competitive. 
 
"That's what I saw out of that play. I said: Man, he probably did that in high school or when he was 13 years old, because that's what we were taught when we were younger."
 
Almora scored the go-ahead run from second base when World Series MVP Ben Zobrist smashed a double past diving Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez. Four days before his 23rd birthday, Almora will receive the championship ring marking the end of the 108-year drought. 
 
"Why I was so confident had a lot to do with my teammates, what they allowed me to be when I first got to the big leagues," Almora said. "They allowed me to be myself. It was really awesome to feel that way. I knew nothing would really change in the playoffs. 
 
"Just go out there and be yourself. Go out there and have fun. Obviously, I was such a small piece of the puzzle for the World Series. But when they called my name there, I was just happy I could get the job done." 

[MORE: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]
 
The Cubs didn't hand Almora an everyday job, signing Jay to a one-year, $8 million contract and expecting him to be a left-handed complement and a veteran mentor. Jay played at the University of Miami — while Almora committed to the Hurricanes before agreeing to a $3.9 million bonus with the Cubs — and the two had already paired up as offseason workout partners back home. 
 
"I can learn from such a great person and a great player as well," Almora said. "My goal doesn't change from last year to this year — it's to win a World Series. He brings a lot to the table. He brings experience in the playoffs.
 
"This isn't about me. This isn't about him. It's about us and whatever makes the team better."
 
The Cubs opened their Cactus League schedule on Saturday with split-squad games against the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants, Jay starting in center field in Mesa while Almora did the same in Scottsdale. The Cubs will see the Indians again on Sunday afternoon at Sloan Park, another reminder of the instincts that might someday help Almora become a Gold Glove defender.
 
"He has a really good awareness of what's going on out there," manager Joe Maddon said. "This kid loves to play. He loves to be part of this. He's always looking for growth. He's always looking to get better at different things.
 
"Coming from Miami and his background, he's just kind of a baseball junkie."
 
To put Almora's focus in context, he married Krystal at a Chicago courthouse in late July last year, got sent back down to Iowa the next day and together they welcomed their newborn son, Ayden John, in August. By early November, Almora's father, Albert Sr., felt good enough after his battle with prostate cancer to ride in the bus in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue. 
 
At this time last year, Almora envisioned himself in the World Series, even though he hadn't yet played above the Triple-A level and wouldn't make his big-league debut until early June. That didn't stop him from making 2016 the most unforgettable year of his life. 
 
"Yeah, I can honestly say that I had confidence in myself that I was going to be there," Almora said. "I didn't know what role I was going to have — that's something you can't control — but I knew from the bottom of my heart that I had worked hard enough, that I was going to get the chance to be on a playoff team.
 
"You have to (look at it that way). My goal was to be on that team to help win a World Series. And that's what happened."

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs are one of the teams interested in free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The 5-time All-Star will be holding a workout soon, with Chicago being one of the six teams reported to have a scout present at his workout.

Heyman did mention that while the Cubs aren’t necessarily the favorites right now, we will know how good of a chance they will have soon. Tulowitzki and his team are reported to be narrowing down their list to (at least) 6 teams.

Last season Tulowitzki played 66 games for the Blue Jays, batting .249 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. For his career he is a .290 hitter and is looking for a bounce-back season after dealing with complications from bone spur injuries in both heels over the years.

Toronto has to pay the $38 million left on Tulowitzki's contract, freeing up other teams to sign the veteran to a more reasonable deal. Since the Blue Jays went the route of cutting him, teams can offer Tulowitzki a league minimum salary.

For the Cubs, he represents-however small-a chance to extract great value from a veteran player, which would be a big bonus considering how the Yu Darvish signing backfired in year one.

Tulowitzki is likely to be searching for playing time on a legit title contender, so if he can provide any solid offensive production going forward, he and the Cubs could be a solid match.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

When nothing happens in Vegas, it stays in Vegas. Luke, Kap and Tony talk about the Cubs lack of moves during the Winter Meetings.

In this episode of the Cubs Talk Podcast with Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan and Tony Andracki:

00:10 - What happen in Vegas stays in Vegas and this year that means nothing. Luke, Kap & Tony talk Cubs lack of moves at Winter Meetings.

00:50 - Where the heck is all the money? This was supposed to be a wide-open window - we step on the accelerator.

01:25 - Cubs keep throwing money at the problem (Chatwood, Darvish) and it has become a cautionary tale.

02:50 - Are the Cubs playing at the shallow end of the kiddie pool?

03:50 - Tony talks about the volatility of the relief market.

05:15 - Where is the bullpen market? Brewers are making moves, but it's still "crickets" for the Cubs.

06:20 - Tony: Other than bullpen - Cubs have to address backup middle infielder most of all.

06:57 - Daniel Descalso rumors. Kap describes him as a grinder who fits the leadership mold.

07:47 - Luke is a little worried about Steve Cishek. He threw a career-high 70 innings last season.

09:34 - The guys talk about the possibility of a "second deadline" for the Winter Meetings to force clubs to make more moves.

11:06 - Luke: "I wanted to see Machado and Harper walking down the strip and making it rain!"

12:45 - Cubs still have so much to address. Some Cubs fans are starting to get a little itchy. Teams in the division are making moves. What about us?

14:45 - Question: Is Anthony Rizzo the third-best 1st baseman in the Central Division?

15:50 - Prediction time: What's biggest move the Cubs will make before opening day? Kap believes that Ian Happ will not be a Cub before the regular season starts.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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