Cubs

No disrespect? Cubs pick up Zambrano

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No disrespect? Cubs pick up Zambrano

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:24 p.m. Updated: 11:48 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Carlos Zambrano already started walking several steps off the mound before Mike Quade could get there. It looked like a power play, the pitcher handing his manager the ball on the infield grass on the way to the dugout.

This is what makes Zambrano so unpredictable. This is what tests the organizations patience. It was all there for everyone to see on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Except Zambrano, who didnt even realize what he just did.

Zambrano was so caught up in an inning spinning out of control that Kerry Wood had to point it out to him. Zambrano watched the replay and felt compelled to go over to the Cubs managers office and apologize to Quade after a 9-5 win over the Houston Astros.

I didnt mean that, Zambrano said. Believe me, the last thing that I want to do this year is disrespect the manager.

Zambrano showed his entire range in the sixth inning. It started with the home run he crushed off the faade in left-center field, some 412 feet away. He pointed up at the black sky as he crossed home plate.

To that point, Zambrano had thrown five scoreless innings. His teammates had given him a 5-0 lead before he threw a single pitch.

Yet when Brett Wallace singled a 3-2 pitch into left field to make it a 6-2 game, Zambrano immediately gestured toward home plate, kicked at the rubber and snapped the ball when it was flipped back to him.

Once Matt Downs hammered another 3-2 pitch beyond the high wall in left-center field for a two-run homer, the Astros had sliced the deficit to one. Zambrano walked one more batter and that was it.

During Game 161 last season in Houston, Zambrano turned away from Quade when he handed the ball to his manager and sulked off the mound. Quade defused that situation and did the same late Wednesday night.

I didnt get there quick enough, Quade said. He was ready to go and I should have been sprinting there. Just hand me the ball. Just dont drop the ball. (I) dont really care. I was hoping he wouldnt run me over.

Look, he was upset. I was upset. Everybodys upset. Lets just have a nice exchange. Lets not fumble the handoff and itll be ok. Lets hope were better next time.

Within the past week, Zambrano suddenly looked more reliable with the Cubs rotation down two pitchers. The Cubs dont yet know what theyre going to do with the fifth starters slot next week.

Jeff Samardzija, who threw three innings out of the bullpen on Tuesday night, became an option for a spot start, and so is James Russell or someone outside the 25-man roster. But long-term the Cubs see Samardzija as a reliever and dont want to mess too much with his role yet again.

Given all that uncertainty, the Cubs will need Zambrano (2-0, 6.11 ERA) to keep everything in check.

Zambrano was gracious when Quade named Ryan Dempster the Opening Day starter and didnt take it as a snub.

The past few days you could see Zambrano salsa dancing in the clubhouse or cracking up on the couch watching Eastbound & Down with his teammates.

Zambrano was almost becoming boring in his postgame news conferences. Whether or not you believe in a new Zambrano, he quickly took responsibility for his actions.

Q is a great guy, Zambrano said. It was my mistake. I think next time I will wait (longer). In fact, next time I will wait for the reliever, too. Theres no problem.

The Cubs (6-6) have a strong sense of team and would probably want you to focus elsewhere. The top of the lineup looks like it could be here to stay. Starlin Castro (.389) and Darwin Barney (.345) combined for eight hits and seven runs this series.

Alfonso Soriano hit his fourth home run of the season. Jeff Baker continues to mash left-handed pitching. The bullpen Marcos Mateo, Sean Marshall, Wood and Carlos Marmol did not allow a run or a hit in 3 13 innings.

The club picked up Z, Quade said.

Box Score

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here.