Cubs

Indians' Roberto Perez continues to 'make a name' with two homers in Game 1 win over Cubs

Indians' Roberto Perez continues to 'make a name' with two homers in Game 1 win over Cubs

CLEVELAND -- He was granted a huge opportunity this season and Roberto Perez has capitalized on it, especially in October.

Perez on Tuesday night became the first Cleveland Indians player to homer twice in a World Series contest as he belted a pair in a 6-0 Game 1 victory over the Cubs in front of 38,091 at Progressive Field. Perez homered off Jon Lester and Hector Rondon, the latter putting the finishing touches on an impressive all-around Indians performance. He also became only the fifth catcher in major league history to homer twice in a World Series game.

“I told him every time, ‘You want to make a name? This is where you do it.’ ” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “And he’s stepping up huge. I told him -- ‘I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you.’

“I almost cried when he hit the home run.”

An excellent pitch framer who threw out 13 of 26 stolen-base attempts in the regular season, Perez’s overall offensive production in 2016 wasn’t very impressive. He finished the regular season hitting .183 with three homers -- a figure he has already matched in the postseason (he also homered against Boston in the American League Division Series).

But most of Perez’s struggles came after he returned early from a broken right thumb out of necessity. When Yan Gomes was placed on the disabled list on July 17 with a separated right shoulder, Perez was only 24 plate appearances into his rehab assignment.

His performance showed as he produced a .367 OPS in his first 75 plate appearances back. But down the stretch, Perez’s bat perked up and he had a .763 OPS in his final 94 plate appearances.

“His numbers are a little misleading,” reliever Andrew Miller said. “He had to be there behind the plate for us and maybe wasn’t ready at the plate. It’s not easy to do that.

“He certainly swung the bat pretty well down the stretch -- he had good at-bats, he works the count and he showed today he can do damage.”

Perez’s first homer came at a critical point as the Indians let a chance slip away an inning earlier to extend their two-run lead. With one out in the fourth, Perez turned around a 92-mph fastball from Lester, hammering it just over the top of the 19-foot high wall in left field for a solo homer. The ball exited Perez’s bat at 113 mph, according to MLB.com.

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The second drive arrived in the eighth inning and put the game out of reach. With Cleveland ahead 3-0, Perez took advantage of a two-out rally and caught hold of a hanging 2-2 slider from Rondon, who had just entered the game, driving it 382 feet for a three-run shot.

“What he did at the plate tonight, my goodness, that was exciting to watch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It gave us a cushion early. And then late, come spread it out. In the seventh or eighth, that wasn’t looking like a 6-0 game. So it’s nice any time. Everybody was happy for him. You could see the way everybody reacted.”

With his second homer, Perez joined elite catching company --- Yogi Berra, Gene Tenace, Johnny Bench and Gary Carter are the only other backstops to homer twice in a World Series game. His four RBIs matched the previous club record set by Sandy Alomar Jr. (Game 5, 1997) and Elmer Smith (Game 5, 1920). He also is the only player in World Series history to homer twice out of the ninth spot in the order in the same game.

Not bad when you consider Perez has caught all 80 postseason innings for a pitching staff that has a produced a 1.58 ERA through its first nine games and is three victories shy of a World Series title.

“I’m just playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Perez said. “I’m not trying to do too much at the plate. I’m just trying to control my emotions. First World Series experience, and just trying to go out there and compete and try to get good ABs up there, and try to get on base and make something happen. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.