Cubs

Manny Machado says Albert Almora will be 'a great Cub someday'

Manny Machado says Albert Almora will be 'a great Cub someday'

Manny Machado and Albert Almora aren't actually related by blood, but they call each other cousins after growing up together in South Florida.  

Machado thought of their Hialeah connection over the weekend at Wrigley Field, where Almora hopes to be an instant-impact player, the same way the Baltimore Orioles got a jolt from their All-Star third baseman.

"He's dying to come up here," Machado said. "He's had a couple injuries that have kinda held him back a little bit. But I tell him, 'You gotta stay strong. I'm going on my second knee surgery and you gotta stay positive.'"

Machado, 22, had just faced the reality he would need a season-ending procedure on his right knee, missing what Baltimore hopes will be a World Series run. But Machado still found time to talk up his “cousin” Almora, who is just getting his first taste of Double-A ball.

"He loves [being in the Cubs system],” Machado said. “He wants to help the team win. He's a very big team-oriented guy. He's all about winning and I think he's gonna be a great Cub someday. Hopefully, that day is sooner rather than later."

At the age of 20, Machado moved off shortstop and made the jump from Double-A to The Show, becoming an important piece to Baltimore’s surprise playoff team in 2012. He earned an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove last season.

Almora is 20 now, but the Cubs are in a different position and won't accelerate his timeline. Not with only 29 games at Tennessee under his belt.

A broken hamate bone and a groin injury limited Almora to just 61 games last season at Class-A Kane County. He had to come out of Tennessee's game on Saturday with a hamstring injury, but felt good enough on Sunday to collect a pinch-hit single.

Almora's numbers haven't been eye-popping this year. He entered Monday hitting .278 with nine homers, 59 RBI and a .701 OPS in 118 games split between two levels. But his intangibles are off the charts, a big reason why he became the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration (sixth overall in 2012).

The centerfielder has shown maturity beyond his years, a baseball IQ Machado thinks Almora developed by playing up a level with the high-profile teams in Miami.

"He's an overall elite player," Machado said. "He's young, but he's the type of player that, eventually, he's going to be one of the best players in the major leagues one day.

"I think what makes him the best is his defense. He's one of the best defensive outfielders out there. He could be one of the top guys in the big leagues right now. I'm a big defensive guy and I think that's what's gonna get him here.

"Overall, he's just a great kid, a great clubhouse guy that everybody loves. He's a team guy. He's going to go out there and bust his ass off for everything and lay it all on the field."

Machado and Almora still talk on a regular basis, trying to help each other make it in a sport that has a way of humbling young players.

"He hits me up on how he's doing and the things he needs to face, the things he's feeling hitting-wise and just overall," Machado said. "The biggest advice I gave him is to just keep grinding every day. Give 110 percent of what you do out there.

"That will take you a long way. He's a tremendously hard worker who addresses areas of his game that need to be worked on. And I think that will get him to the big leagues."

Cubs refuse to push the panic button on inconsistent offense

Cubs refuse to push the panic button on inconsistent offense

Any time the Cubs offense scuffles, there's always a dichotomy between the fanbase and the clubhouse.

Many fans believe the sky is falling while inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field, the Cubs continue to stay the course and try with all their might not to ride the roller coaster of the season.

That's especially true right now, with the wounds from last season's second-half offensive breakdown still fresh. 

It's easy to sweep a slump under the rug after a four-game series against the Dodgers in L.A., but the lineup issues came to a head Tuesday night at Wrigley Field when the Cubs faced the pitcher with the second-worst qualified ERA in baseball (Ivan Nova) and managed just 1 run — on the first pitch of the game, no less. 

Yet the Cubs insisted there was no panic inside the clubhouse about the cold bats and to a man, they talked about simply riding the wave and waiting for things to break their way.

So naturally, the Cubs came out Wednesday night and battered around the American League ERA leader Lucas Giolito thanks to a barrage of homers — including Willson Contreras' first-inning grand slam. Contreras' second homer of the night made him the fifth different Cub to reach 15 dingers this season (no other MLB team had more than three players eclipse the 15-homer threshold).

Still, the Cubs know they need to get the offense on a more consistent trajectory and find ways to score beyond just the longball.

"We have to be able to somehow find enough runs to win a game like [Tuesday]," Joe Maddon said. "That's where the run [of wins] is. We have to win some games where your pitching isn't as good that night and we have to score one more. And then when our pitching is that good, we have to score two or three. We just have to be able to do that in order to get on that run."

Wednesday's Contreras-led offensive explosion marked the first time in a week that the Cubs had scored more than 3 runs, but again, much of that was due to facing the Dodgers, owners of the best pitching staff in the NL.

After Tuesday night's loss, Maddon and the Cubs took solace in the fact that they didn't expand the zone too much or get themselves out. They only struck out 5 times against Nova and the White Sox bullpen.

"It's a long season," said David Bote, who homered Wednesday night after not starting Tuesday's game. "It's hard to not be caught up in a couple game stretch where it's not falling. But a lot of hard hits; we're not chasing out of the zone. 

"[We know we can't] push a panic button and stress. If you do that, then all of a sudden you start spiraling even more. You trust it and if there's nothing crazy wrong with what our approach is or anything like that, you just find a way to get runs in and get on a nice little hot streak and roll with it."

The Cubs began the season firing on all cylinders offensively, but cracks have started to show in the foundation over the last few weeks as their season record fell to 39-33 after Tuesday's loss.

They're not going to the opposite field with enough authority and situational hitting (or "opportunity hitting," as coach Anthony Iapoce calls it) is still a problem area — the Cubs woke up Wednesday morning with the worst batting average with runners in scoring position (.243) in the NL.

Maddon talked at length about the Cubs' situational hitting before Wednesday's game and was blunt in his assessment:

"We gotta start figuring those moments out," he said. "We were good coming out of the shoot, I thought, and then we've gotten away from it. We've just gotta get back to that moment. There's still time to be able to do that. But that also speaks to why our record is as pedestrian as it is."

But why has the offense taken a turn for the worse after such a hot start? Much like the "broken' stretch in the last couple months of 2018, the Cubs can't really put a finger on it.

"I don't have a strong answer to that," Maddon said. "It's guys in the moment in the game situation and we just have to continually remind them to stay [in the middle of the field and not try to pull the ball.] That's it. It's one of those things to remind. Our guys are definitely capable of readjusting back to that. ... We just have to go out there and get 'er done."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Cubs look to even the Crosstown series with a win

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Cubs look to even the Crosstown series with a win

Ozzie Guillén and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi on a special Crosstown edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

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