You just know when Albert Almora Jr. is done playing baseball he’ll be running a seafood place somewhere back home in Florida.
The young outfielder already has made center field at Wrigley Field the most reliable spot this side of McCormick and Schmick’s to find the catch of the day in Chicago every time he’s in the Cubs’ lineup.
He even had two on a cool, breezy Thursday afternoon against the Dodgers — both at the wall, and both against Corey Seager — to prevent extra-base hits and help Brett Anderson earn a 4-0 victory that gave the Cubs their third consecutive series win to open the -season.
“I think I owe Almora my paycheck for the day,” said Anderson, who struggled with command but wound up with his first victory with his new team, largely because of a team-fielding effort behind him led by Almora. “If he doesn’t make those plays, it’s a different ballgame.”
The first leaping catch at the wall was the second out of the game, after right fielder Jason Heyward snared a line drive in the gap for the first out.
“My mindset’s just to go get it,” he said. “I’m just happy to help.”
Almora’s second catch against Seager was over his shoulder. It was the final out of the third inning, and it stranded a runner at second to preserve what was a 1-0 lead.
“I’ve seen it since I was in the minors, all the crazy plays he’s done,” said left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who nearly got into the act earlier in the third on a juggling catch at the wall in the gap, before the play was overturned because the ball touched the ivy. “Some of those plays he makes are unbelievable.”
Anthony Rizzo hit a home run into the wind in right for a 1-0 lead in the first. Addison Russell hit one onto Waveland Avenue for a 2-0 lead in the fourth. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. pitched two scoreless innings to remain unscathed in five outings.
The Cubs are 6-3 this season, mostly because they have continued to catch the ball better than anybody else in baseball.
The Cubs got another web-gem play at second that Javy Baez made look easy. He leaped for a line drive, then threw back across his body for a close out at first for a double play that erased a leadoff hit in the seventh.
“There was a lot of little nuance in that game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But, really, without that defense, it doesn’t look anything like that.”
By almost every defensive metric, the Cubs last year were far and away the top team at turning struck balls into outs.
With the addition of Gold Glove-caliber Almora in at least a platoon role in center, a full season of Willson Contreras behind the plate and Baez presumably getting more time at second, many believe they might be even better in the field this year.
“I don’t see why not,” Kyle Hendricks said. “We’ve got even better athletes in a way out there. I think there’s no reason we can’t repeat it or even improve upon it.”
Almora is the clearest upgrade. He robbed a home run last week in a 2-1 victory in St. Louis and saved another run Saturday in Milwaukee with a sliding catch.
“I think of it like this,” Almora said of the pride he and the team take in fielding. “If we made a T-shirt for it, it’s pretty big.”
It might be a little bigger than that, considering the ubiquity of Cubs T-shirt themes ranging from rain delays to not sucking, from target embracing to choking up with two strikes on Sunday getaway days (that last one might not actually exist yet).
But the “D-Peat” one seems to have a certain resonance as 2017 gets underway.
“We take pride in that,” Almora said. “That’s what we base ourselves on.”
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