I have been none too shy when it comes to my affinity for Albert Almora Jr. and you can bet your sweet bippy that I’m not going to shut up about it any time soon. And you know why? Because the sophomore center fielder has been coming on strong over the last few weeks.
You know what, though, that’s not really fair to say. Not only has Almora been playing really well at home all season, but he’s taken the narrative about not being able to hit righties out behind the woodshed and has been beating the living hell out of it with his bat. Seriously, dude has been terminating pitches with extreme prejudice.
Almora got the Cubs on the board with an single in the 4th inning that left his bat at 104 mph. Then he mashed a double the following inning that was clocked at 107 mph and pushed the score to 3-0. But, Evan, Michael Wacha is a reverse-split pitcher who has been absolutely brutal on the road against righties. Surely he’d be shut down by John Brebbia, a guy who’d allowed a .152 average and .527 OPS to right-handed hitters.
Sure enough, Almora roped a 2-0 fastball out to left for another double, this time with a velocity of 109 mph. Folks, that is just some abuse of Cardinals pitching and I couldn’t be happier to see how this young man is developing.
While I’d would have liked for him to have been a bigger part of the lineup more frequently prior to this, I have to give credit to Joe Maddon for putting Almora in a position to succeed. That said, it is time to give him more regular starts in center. His glove is superior to the other options there and his bat is speaking at a much higher volume than my words could hope to.
Russell announces his return
When it comes to loud noises, you can’t do much better than Addison Russell, who ambushed a 1-2 fastball from Tyler Lyons in his first at-bat since August 2. The shortstop had said Friday that he was game-ready, but it was still surprising to see how quickly the timeline for his return accelerated over the last few days.
We heard Thursday that he might be able to come back by the Brewers series next week, then we learned that this weekend was a possibility depending on his Saturday workout. Then he was activated. Then he hammered a 437-foot bomb and caught the final out of the game to seal the victory.
What a huge addition Russell will be to a Cubs team that all of a sudden has begun to resemble the one that rolled through the rest of the league last season. To that end, the recent offensive explosion has the Cubs sitting atop the NL in scoring with 758 runs.
When Kyle Hendricks and Michael Wacha last squared off, the results were not quite as favorable for the Cubs as those on Saturday. In fact, that previous contest was the one that forced Hendricks to the DL with what had been annoying pain in his right middle finger. This time around it was the Cardinals who felt the pain as Hendricks effectively flipped them the bird.
On point with pretty much all of his pitches right out of the gate, Hendricks limited the Cards to a single run on six hits and a walk. He struck out five over 7.2 innings of work as well, deftly escaping the only real jam he got into when he induced an double play from Tommy Pham to end the 3rd inning with the bases loaded.
Hendricks exited after allowing a home run to Matt Carpenter, after which Carl Edwards Jr. absolutely demoralized Pham on three pitches. Man, I’m really liking the idea of that guy batting with two outs. I’m not sure it would have mattered who was up there when Edwards spun that knee-buckling bender that phroze the batter and ended the inning.
Then Wade Davis came on for his second straight game, this time for a more customary three outs, and needed his usual 18 pitches to end the game. This, folks, is how it should be. You’re not going to get one-run games every time, but having that smooth transition from starter to setup man to closer is a luxury the Cubs have not had often enough this season.
Hendricks appears a locked in as any Cubs starter at this point and it looks like he just needed time to put it all together. Between him rounding back into form and the offense doing the same, I’d say this team might be in a decent position to make a little noise over the next few weeks.
Vedder jams on Waveland
So this would be a pretty cool thing to encounter as you’re grabbing a few postgame beers.
— cubs in 7 (@bleacherbum54) September 16, 2017
More news and notes
• The Altman family welcomed a new addition in the form of an orange tabby known as Sandberg “Sandy” Bryant. My daughter and and I drove past an adoption event while heading out for lunch while my son was at a birthday party and I couldn’t help myself. He was home in time to watch Saturday’s win, which was nice.
• With the Brewers losing at home to the Marlins Saturday, the Cubs are assured of holding the division lead when the two teams square off for their four-game series.