MESA, Arizona -- It's certainly early, just three games into spring training, but Cubs catcher Miguel Montero appears to be ready for the season.
Montero has gone 5-for-5 so far in spring games and Saturday, he was 3-for-3 as the DH, including a home run into the left-field bullpen. He also singled and doubled and scored both the Cubs' runs. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough and the Reds defeated the Cubs 4-2 in front of another sellout crowd. Saturday's total of 15,443 made the total for two games 30,889 and the average of 15,445 would shatter the record set last year. Eight of the 13 remaining home games at Sloan Park are already sold out, and depending on the weather next week, it's possible that the Cubs could average over 15,000 for the spring.
That's what happens when you have a returning playoff team expected to go deep into the postseason again this year.
It's hard to write much about a game where minor leaguers played half the game; unlike past years, most of the non-roster guys and players at the "bottom" of the 40-man roster have little chance to make the team, so Joe Maddon's job is really to give his regulars enough reps without tiring them out (and without getting them hurt).
There were a couple of defensive plays of note Saturday. Gleyber Torres made a spectacular stop up the middle in the second inning and threw the runner out at first. Three innings later, Albert Almora made a terrific catch in center field, and said:
#Cubs Almora on his defensive play: "I'd rather rob a home run than hit one"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 5, 2016
No doubt, if Almora can become the hitter everyone hopes he can, he will be a good major-league player. Without the bat, though, I think he's a fourth outfielder. Torres, meanwhile, impresses me more every time I see him play. You'd never guess he's just 19 years old. He's still likely three years away from the big leagues, but that might be just about the time Ben Zobrist's contract is up, and Torres could move into second base.
Trevor Cahill threw two good innings, helped in part by Torres' defense, and he looks in much better shape than he was a year ago. (No "Best Shape Of His Life" comment from me, though.) He'll be a valuable part of the bullpen, and like Travis Wood, Clayton Richard and Sunday's starter Adam Warren, gives the Cubs four relievers with starting experience. This is much better than having Dallas Beeler and/or Eric Jokisch as your replacement starters.
Speaking of Jokisch... he was not good toay. He hit the first batter he faced, then allowed a two-run homer to Tucker Barnhart and a single before Kris Bryant started a nice double play to help him get out of the inning.
I was also most interested in seeing Ryan Williams, who had a solid year at Double-A in 2015 with excellent control and command. He seems like another Kyle Hendricks type, not with great velocity but with the ability to locate well. He did so Saturday through a 1-2-3 inning. All the outs were fly balls, one of them Almora's great catch.
Apart from Montero's afternoon, the Cubs' offense didn't do much. There were only two other hits (a single by Tim Federowicz and double by Almora), a walk drawn by Shane Victorino, and Bryant was hit on a 2-2 pitch in the third inning. The offense will come, I'm certain, and that's why I'm not too worried about these early games.
Kyle Schwarber, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday Saturday, entered the game to catch in the fifth inning, went 0-for-2, and allowed the Reds' last run on a throwing error after a steal of third, not the best way to enjoy your natal day. He did "make up" for the error shortly thereafter, throwing out a runner to end the seventh inning on a strikeout-throwout double play.
Logan Watkins, who missed all of last year (and a chance to make the team as a backup infielder) with an Achilles injury, got back on the field for two innings at shortstop. He'll head to Iowa again, most likely. I feel badly that the injury likely cost him a couple of years of a big-league career. He could certainly make several teams other than the Cubs as a backup.
It was somewhat cooler Sunday (low 80s) and cloudy much of the afternoon, which made it more comfortable at the park despite the large crowd, some of whom joined in with Cubs manager Joe Maddon on his "Respect Bald" charity fund-raiser:
At last report, the event raised over $29,000 to help pediatric cancer research.
Sunday, Adam Warren starts for the Cubs against the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin. And, we already have the Cubs' lineup for Sunday:
#Cubs lineup Sun vs AZ: Fowler CF, Zobrist 2B, Heyward RF, Russell SS, La Stella 3B, Ross C, Vogelbach DH, Perez LF, Negron 1B— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 5, 2016
Sunday's game will be on 670 The Score, and also televised with the D'backs crew on Fox Sports Arizona (available on MLB.tv if you have a subscription.