Cubs

Why Cubs will face Cleveland's non-traditional leadoff man Carlos Santana in Game 2

Why Cubs will face Cleveland's non-traditional leadoff man Carlos Santana in Game 2

CLEVELAND — Carlos Santana is far from a prototypical leadoff hitter, standing a stout 5-foot-11, 210 pounds with only five stolen bases to his name in 2016. But while he doesn’t fit the traditional mold, the Cleveland Indians catcher/first baseman/designated hitter has been an effective weapon hitting first in Terry Francona’s lineup this year. 

Santana started 85 games as a leadoff hitter in 2016 and posted a .385 on-base percentage with 19 home runs and more walks (67) than strikeouts (60) in those games. Specifically when he was the first batter of the game, Santana hit .260/.365/.521 with five home runs and four doubles, consistently setting the table for an Indians lineup that scored the second most runs in the American League in the regular season. 

So it’s no surprise that Santana, a switch hitter, is leading off as the Indians’ designated hitter for Game 2 of the World Series against the Cubs. 

“He doesn’t try to force anything, waits on his pitch and when he gets it he knocks it out of the park,” Indians outfielder Coco Crisp, who himself has led off 853 games in his 15-year career, said. “I think a few teams have gone from the typical leadoff hitter, just straight base-stealer, small-ball guy and have moved their big guys to the front of the lineup. It’s a good move but you also have to have somebody like ‘Los with his ability to not only hit the long ball but be a leadoff hitter. Sometimes it’s hard to find guys who can do both and he does a great job.”

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What Crisp was most impressed with has been Santana not striking out much while retaining the power that led him to slam 34 home runs in the regular season. Only four players with at least 30 home runs had lower strikeout rates than Santana (14.4 percent), and he averaged seeing 4.1 pitches per plate appearance when leading off, so at the least he regularly worked counts and allowed the rest of the Indians’ order to see some pitches in the first inning. 

“For Tito to throw him in the leadoff spot, I’m glad he did that because it makes perfect sense,” Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, who led off Game 1 of the World Series, said. “When he’s getting on base and Kip’s hitting well and Lindor, and what really gets you is when the lineup turns over, now you gotta face Santana, who had what, 34 home runs this year and a number of RBIs. He’s not an easy out and that just makes it that much tougher when the lineup is turned over.”

Santana never hit leadoff before 2016, and Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said the 30-year-old was a bit surprised when Francona told him during spring training he could wind up hitting first during the season. But Santana has embraced the role, which was partly made possible by the presence of having Mike Napoli and his 34 home runs hitting in the middle of the order. 

“I think it was a great idea,” Van Burkleo said. “I told him, you’re leading off, you’re getting more at-bats throughout the season then you normally would, so there’s more opportunities to do some things. He’s had a great year.

So when Jake Arrieta delivers his first pitch of Game 2, he won’t be dealing with a guy who relies mostly on speed to get on base and make things happen. He’ll be dealing with a premier power hitter who’s able to get on base quite a bit — and who’s had plenty of success hitting first in 2016. 

“I think this team is well-balanced, which makes that an option,” Crisp said. “You don’t necessarily have to have him and Nap hitting behind each other all the team with 30 and 30 (home runs, you can kind of spread it out.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.