Cubs

Albert Almora foul ball hits young fan during Cubs-Astros game

Albert Almora foul ball hits young fan during Cubs-Astros game

During Albert Almora’s at-bat in the fourth inning of the Cubs-Astros game he hit a foul ball that hit a young girl in the stands.

Almora fouled a ball down the third base line and was immediately distraught, putting his arms on his helmet. Play was stopped for two minutes. Players from both teams were visibly upset.

After the game, the Astros released a statement about the situation.


An AP image from photographer David J. Phillip shows the child crying after being struck by the foul ball.

Almora's quick reaction was due to the fact that he saw where the ball was going right off his bat.

"That's probably what sucked the most," Almora said. "It's just the way life is. As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her."

Manager Joe Maddon and fellow outfielder Jason Heyward, the on-deck hitter, consoled Almora quickly after the play. Almora said Astros pitcher Wade Miley went up to him and tried to calm him down as well.

"It's an awful moment," Maddon said. "Albert is an emotional young man with children so that made it even more real to him. And I got it. I understood exactly what he was going through right there. I knew he needed somebody to walk up there."

After the stoppage, Almora returned to the plate and struck out on a pitch in the dirt on the next pitch. He finished the game. Maddon said he was prepared to take Almora out, but Almora gave him a thumbs up and said he wanted to play.

"The rest was kind of a blur, the rest of that at-bat," Almora said. "I kind of came to my senses the next half inning when I went over to the stands."

When Almora went to the stands he was seen breaking down in the arms of an on-field security guard.

"I just couldn't hold it anymore," he said. "I had to try to keep my composure during that at-bat, but when that half inning was over I just couldn't hold it anymore."

Despite being clearly rattled in the moment, Almora said it was better to stay in rather than sit out and have more time to think about what happened.

"I think it would have been worse for me mentally if I had gone out of the game," Almora said. "Unofficial reports of how she's doing kept me going."

Almora, a father of two boys, struggled to compose himself during the postgame interview.

Maddon said that he emphasized to Almora that what happened was not under his control.

"There's nothing that you could have done about that differently so please don't blame yourself," Maddon said. "Of course it's an awful moment, but this is a game and it's out of your control and you just have to understand that part of it. Listen, I have kids. I have grandkids. It's a real awful moment for a player to go through something like that.

"It's a human moment and I'm actually really proud of the way he reacted."

Almora said he hopes to have a relationship with the girl, but all he can offer for now is prayers.

"It puts life in perspective," Almora said. "We get upset when we don't hit, when we make errors. Like I was, I was upset I didn't make that play. Life just put things in perspective."

Cubs free agent focus: Hyun-Jin Ryu

Cubs free agent focus: Hyun-Jin Ryu

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

As the Cubs look to fill out their starting rotation, it’s extremely unlikely Gerrit Cole will be joining the North Siders via free agency.

Or Stephen Strasburg.

Or Madison Bumgarner.

As the top starters available, Cole, Strasburg and Bumgarner are set to receive lucrative contracts out of the Cubs’ price range. But if Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to acquire a top-of-the-rotation arm, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is a much more affordable option.

Ryu was one of the best starters in baseball last season, winning the National League ERA title (2.32) en route to being named a Cy Young Award finalist. He made 29 starts and tossed 182 2/3 innings, the second-best totals of his career.

The question with Ryu isn’t whether he’ll pitch well; he holds a career 2.98 ERA and 1.164 WHIP in 126 games (125 starts). The question each season is whether he’ll stay healthy.

Ryu missed all of 2015 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He returned in July 2016, making a single start before hitting the shelf with left elbow tendinitis. He underwent a debridement procedure — like Yu Darvish last offseason — in September 2016.

Granted, Ryu has largely remained healthy since 2017. He made 24 starts that season, missing a little time with contusions in his left hip and left foot. A right groin strain kept him out for two months in 2018, though he posted a dazzling 1.97 ERA in 15 starts.

Nonetheless, teams will be weary of what they offer Ryu this offseason. The last thing you want is to sign a pitcher in his mid-30s to a long-term deal, only for him to go down with a serious arm issue. Ryu hasn't had any serious arm issues since 2016, but any injury concern is valid for the soon-to-be 33-year-old.

All negatives aside, there’s a lot to like about Ryu. He excels at inducing soft contact and ranked in the top 4 percent in baseball last season in average exit velocity-against (85.3 mph). Ryu doesn’t walk many batters (3.3 percent walk rate in 2019; 5.4 percent career) and strikes out a solid number (22.5 percent rate in 2019; 22 percent career).

Signing Ryu would give the Cubs three lefty starters, but that’s been the case since mid-2018, when they acquired Cole Hamels (who recently signed with the Braves). The rotation would have more certainty moving forward, too, as Jose Quintana will hit free agency next offseason. Jon Lester could as well, but he has a vesting option for 2022 if he tosses 200 innings next season.

The Cubs hope young arms Adbert Alzolay and top prospect Brailyn Marquez will contribute in the rotation for years to come. Alzolay may be on an innings limit next season and Marquez is at least a season away from making his MLB debut.

The Cubs have a rotation opening now and need to bridge the gap to their young arms for the next few seasons. Every free agent comes with question marks, and Ryu is no exception, but he is a frontline starter when healthy. He’d be a solid addition to the Cubs staff, and it won't take as big of a deal to sign him as others.

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Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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