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Cubs 4, Dodgers 0: Mr. Almora For The Defense

Plus, a couple of long Cubs home runs!

Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Albert Almora Jr. might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball.

And that’s saying something, because the A.L. East hosts two outstanding center fielders in Kevin Pillar (Blue Jays) and Kevin Kiermaier (Rays). We’ll see both of those men play at Wrigley Field later this year.

I don’t know if either of them could have made two plays as good as the ones Almora made Thursday afternoon, both off deep drives hit by Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, helping the Cubs to a 4-0 win over the Dodgers, the team’s first shutout victory of 2017.

Here are both grabs in one video:

The first one came with one out in the first inning. The second one was more important, coming with a runner on second and two out in the third. That runner, Kiké Hernandez, got there on this play that at first looked like a great catch by Kyle Schwarber [VIDEO].

Unfortunately, replay reviewers noted that the ball hit off the wall after it bounced off Schwarber’s glove. Here’s the official ruling:

Hernandez had actually rounded the bases while Schwarber was trying to make “firm and secure possession,” but since the call on the field had been “out,” he was sent back to second. Almora’s grab kept the Dodgers scoreless. And don’t think that Brett Anderson didn’t appreciate all the defensive help:

By this time the Cubs had a 1-0 lead thanks to Anthony Rizzo:

Rizzo’s first homer of 2017 went into a pretty strong wind blowing directly in off Lake Michigan. This was a similar ball to the one he hit Wednesday into a nearly identical wind:

The lower launch angle made the difference, obviously. In the fourth, Addison Russell made it 2-0:

The ball eventually landed on Waveland Avenue, but not before bouncing off the back railing of the bleachers. At 429 feet, that ball was crushed! And look who got it:

By this time, as you can see, the sun had come out and made it a moderately pleasant afternoon, at least if you were sitting in the sun. The Dodgers threatened in the fourth and fifth but didn’t score; Anderson got out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth by getting Yasiel Puig to foul out to Rizzo.

It wasn’t a great outing for Anderson, who threw a lot of pitches (90) for a five-inning outing, and only 48 were strikes. He walked four, but his defense bailed him out multiple times.

The Cubs put a pair on the board in the fifth. Schwarber and Rizzo both had RBI singles, and it might have been more runs if Schwarber hadn’t been thrown out at the plate after the Dodgers threw the ball around a bit on Rizzo’s single.

With a 4-0 lead, the bullpen did an outstanding job. Carl Edwards Jr. retired the Dodgers 1-2-3 on only nine pitches in the sixth, so Joe Maddon let him bat for himself in the bottom of the inning (he struck out) and throw the seventh. In that inning, after Willson Contreras doubled and the next two hitters were retired, Javier Baez was given the “Manfred” (automatic walk) before CJ batted. It’s still a bit odd to see that in person, because you watch everyone just kind of standing around until the signal is given, whatever it is, and the batter starts heading to first base and you realize what has happened.

Edwards gave up a leadoff single in the seventh but got out of it with a double-play ball started with a nice stop by Baez, and then ended the inning with another grounder to Javy, who seemed to look at that particular ground ball with an air of utter contempt, as if to say, “What is this baseball doing in my area? You will not get this past me, opposing hitter!”

Koji Uehara, who’s looking like a really good acquisition, had an uneventful eighth and Wade Davis threw the ninth even though it wasn’t a save situation, likely because he hadn’t pitched since Monday.

One final note: Hector Rondon doesn’t appear to be seriously injured. I watched him do some long-toss in left field before the game and he didn’t look restricted in any way, and he walked off the field looking perfectly fine.

With the 2016 ceremonies complete, this one felt more like a normal game, as we get into the swing of the season. This also gave me some time to explore the ballpark and take some photos of the changes made this offseason:

So the Cubs again took two of three, as they’ve done in each of the three series played so far. Doing that against teams that are expected to be postseason contenders (Cardinals and Dodgers) is a good sign for this team.

Friday afternoon, the Cubs open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were supposed to have an off day Thursday but instead found themselves having to travel from Pittsburgh to Boston to play a makeup of a game rained out last week (they blew a 3-1 eighth-inning lead and lost 4-3). Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs and Gerrit Cole will take the mound for the Pirates.