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Sara’s Snapshots: Scenes from Cubs Opening Day

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Báez, Bryant and Almora had moments that deserve a closer look

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Texas Rangers
Javier Báez had a big day in the Cubs opener
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs opened their season in Arlington against the Rangers and there were a lot of great moments in their 12-4 win. Since the Cubs already have an off day one game into the regular season (I’ll remember this when they are in the middle of a 30 game stretch of makeup games in September, MLB) let’s take a closer look at a few of the key moments below.

Albert Almora Jr. is still a wizard

This catch was the moment I knew I was going to write a snapshot of this win. It’s pure defensive wizardry. I’ve watched it half a dozen times now and I think this was the defensive play of the game.

The Cubs had just gotten a run back to make the score 2-1 and while Lester looked okay he was looking for a shutdown inning. He was one out away when Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ball to shallow left center that looked like it would definitely drop in for a hit:

Almora as the ball heads for center left.
MLB

I was a bit annoyed that it looked like the Rangers would have a two out hit:

Almora is closing ground but this still looks like a hit
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I should know better than to doubt Almora by now. As he left his feet to catch this ball my breath caught a bit because I knew if he misjudged this it was headed for the wall:

Almora dives for Cabrera’s ball
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But I’ve got to admit I was a lot less nervous as Almora closed in on the ball. He covered so much ground that this catch looked, not exactly routine, but certainly not as hard as it looked when he started in to make the catch:

Almora with his first diving catch of 2019
MLB

This was a great way to end an inning and I’m sure Almora has a few more diving grabs in him for 2019.

Javier Báez is hitting bombs to all fields

Javier Báez had a career year in 2018 and came in second in MVP voting after posting a .290/.326/.554 slash line with 34 home runs, 111 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. But there has been a lot of discussion about whether that season was an outlier or a sign. It’s certainly too early to know which of these is true, but Javy didn’t look like he’d missed a beat in the Cubs first game in 2019.

In the fourth inning he hit a no-doubt solo shot to left field [VIDEO]:

How do you know it’s a no-doubter? Watch the outfielders. Here’s Joey Gallo watching Javy’s home run. The next three screencaps are Gallo reacting to Javy’s first home run of 2019:

Joey Gallo looks up
MLB

This is not the look of a man who believes he has a play on this ball. This is the look of a man who realizes this ball is going to land somewhere in the left field bleachers.

Gallo starts to turn as he knows where this is going
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Notice the angle Gallo has taken. Also, notice this lack of urgency. This is a man who knows he has no play on this ball.

Joey Gallo walks away as the ball lands
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Before I move on to Javy’s second home run of 2019 I want to look at one more thing about this blast. Specifically, Javy had no business hitting a home run on this baseball. It’s an 0-2 count and this is supposed to be a ball in the dirt. Look where Javy hits it and look where Rangers catcher Jeff Mathis is set up:

Javy connects with a ball out of the zone
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One of the more interesting parts of Javy’s approach in 2018 was that he didn’t really get more selective, he just got better at hitting balls out of the zone, specifically curve balls. Jeff Sullivan did a deep dive on this at Fangraphs and one of my biggest question marks for 2019 was trying to figure out if this was in anyway shape or form sustainable. I still don’t know the answer to that, but I can’t wait to see more swings like this:

Javy with a huge swing for his first home run
MLB

39 players hit home runs on opening day, and Javy Báez joined Kolten Wong, Tim Beckham, Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernández as the only players who had two. His second shot was not a towering fly ball on a pitch out of the zone, it was an opposite field line shot on a 90 mile per hour fastball that Jesse Chavez wishes he could take back [VIDEO]:

Javy sees this ball perfectly:

Javy hits his second home run of the day
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I particularly like how he shortens up his swing here to get the barrel of the bat on the ball:

Javy swing on home run number 2
MLB

This time it’s towards Nomar Mazara. Like Gallo all he can do is watch it go:

Mazara watches Javy’s second home run land
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And with a little hop on home plate, Javy busts the game wide open and the Cubs never looked back:

Javy makes it 7-2 Cubs with a celebratory hop on home plate
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Kris Bryant goes oppo

Kris Bryant also had his first home run of 2019 against the Rangers and frankly it looked like a hybrid of Javy’s two blasts. He basically took a ball that was low and very close to out of the zone to the opposite field, it landed in almost the same spot that Javy’s second home run landed [VIDEO]:

I’ll break this down a bit more in a minute but before I do I want to share a couple of spray charts from Fangraphs. As you can see below most of Bryant’s home runs over his career have been hit to left field. What was more interesting to me is that during his injury plagued 2018 almost all of his opposite field power vanished:

Kris Bryant spray chart 2015-2018
Fangraphs
Kris Bryant spray chart 2018
Fangraphs

So it was particularly nice to see KB hit an opposite field blast for his first home run of 2019. This pitch isn’t quite as low as the one Javy knocked out, but it’s a borderline strike:

KB goes after a low pitch on a 2-2 count
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I’ve really missed this swing:

Bryant with a perfect swing
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Mazara looks like he’s experiencing déjà vu:

Mazara has been here before
MLB

All told, it was a pretty great Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs and while I know better than to put too much faith in small sample sizes, Cubs fans were treated to some promising moments by Almora, Bryant, and Báez. What were your favorite moments from Opening Day?