Galvis, Hernandez turning heads in outfield


Galvis, Hernandez turning heads in outfield

WASHINGTON -- It’s weird to think of Ryne Sandberg as anything but the Gold Glover and Hall of Famer. But when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs, he was essentially a man without a position.

Primarily a shortstop and third baseman, Sandberg said his managers moved him around the diamond before he settled into second base. In fact, Sandberg says he even played some outfield.

Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame centerfielder?

“When I was first traded to the Cubs, I played a handful of games in center field because I was swinging the bat a little bit,” Sandberg said before Friday night’s game at Nationals Park. “I was playing some third, backing up a little at second as a utility type of thing.

“I hit well the whole spring, so they were looking for a position that was open and centerfield was one, third base was another. I played about a handful out there.”

So maybe Sandberg understands what it’s like for Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez to play the outfield for the first time. Galvis and Hernandez, two natural middle infielders, were major-league ready -- only their positions weren’t open.

No problem. Sandberg and the Phillies found a couple of spots in the outfield and for the second game in a row, Galvis is in left and his double-play partner Hernandez is in center.

“Freddy has experience on the left side of the infield at short and third, but that being said he’s also played second base and the outfield,” Sandberg said. “So he is more versatile than Cesar as we speak. But to have both guys around, in the mix, it makes it interesting and a good problem. It creates depth in case of an injury, which is good.

“I would like to see Cesar to get some work on the left side of the diamond, but I don’t know when that will happen. That’s a down-the-road thing, maybe a winter-ball thing. To be the super-utility guy who can play on both sides of the diamond and in the outfield, that’s versatile.”

So far it’s worked out well. Galvis and Hernandez have settled into the new positions well.

Galvis played some left field during spring training, but played 580 of his 586 minor-league games at shortstop. The other six were at second base or third base.

Hernandez has played 567 minor-league games, but never stepped into the outfield until he went back to Lehigh Valley after a brief call up to the majors in May and June. Still, Hernandez got just 21 games in the outfield before he rejoined the Phillies, where he’s played 10 of 11 games in center.

That’s quite a switch for the second baseman.

“It was a long way from home plate,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “Used to being so close to the action, so I kind of get that. I understand it. To go out there, you really have to be in the game. When you’re an infielder and you go to the outfield, you really have to focus a little more on the game because home plate is further away from you and it feels like maybe at times, if you haven’t been out there at all, the ball is not gonna be hit to you.

“Whereas the infield, you’re on the balls of your feet, glove down, really low waiting for the hot shot. Out there, it’s like that, but you really have to stay focused if the ball is coming your way.”

Hernandez seems to be a natural in center field. Sandberg said Hernandez gets good reads on fly balls and has a strong arm that translates well from the infield to the outfield. Part of that is because of Hernandez’s speed, but also because he’s a pretty good baseball player who understands the game.

“His athletic ability is allowing him to play the position pretty well right now for the lack of experience that he has, the reads off the bat that he’d normally have,” Sandberg said. “He’s had some plays right at him, handled sinking liners very nice. He’s had balls hit over his head, but his stride and his foot speed [are good].

“His speed to the gaps has been very good. He’s called off corner outfielders on balls. He’s been a pleasant surprise. It’s not an easy position by no means, but I think his athletic ability has allowed him to cover the position very well and he finds himself in the lineup.”

It hasn’t been easy for Hernandez and he admits he still has a lot of work to do. But if moving from second base to the outfield gets him playing time in the big leagues, Hernandez will happily wear the glove.

“It’s not for everybody, but you get guys that can play different positions like a lot of our guys have and have that ability, that’s a good thing down the road,” Hernandez said. “You never know when they’ll need it. For a young player to have some versatility, that’s how you become a regular.

“That position opens up and you have some experience there, and basically that’s what happened to me. I was able to break in because there was an opening at third base and I had never played third base. It used to be taught that way, for guys to break in possibly as a utility player and one day earn the right to be a regular. That was the mentality.

“For that, I needed to learn two or three positions. When an opening came up, they were good to go, and then they became a regular.”

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series


LOS ANGELES -- One win away. Two chances at home. Seven decades of waiting.

The Chicago Cubs closed in on their first World Series trip since 1945 by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday in Game 5 of their National League playoff.

Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series.

On deck, a pair of opportunities to wrap up that elusive pennant at Wrigley Field.

"The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not going to run away from anything. It's within our reach right now."

The Cubs' first opportunity to clinch comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

"That's a game we expect to win," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said.

Of course, the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago -- heading home to Wrigley with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.

But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.

More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.

"We've heard the history," center fielder Dexter Fowler said, "but at the same time we're trying to make history."

Budding star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.

After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.

"Just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting," Russell said. "Pumped up, not only for myself but for the team and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that."

Baez had three of Chicago's 13 hits, matching the team's total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.

Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.

The left-hander struck out six and walked one in a slow-paced game that lasted 4 hours, 16 minutes.

"These guys won the game for us," Lester said, nodding toward Russell and Baez. "I was just kind of along for the ride."

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.

Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second before Russell's shot to left-center put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.

Blanton took his second loss of the series. The veteran right-hander gave up consecutive homers in the eighth inning of Game 1, including a tiebreaking grand slam by pinch-hitter Miguel Montero.

"Our confidence hasn't wavered," Roberts said. "This series certainly isn't over."

With the Dodgers trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a replay review for the second consecutive night.

With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the inning. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the ruling was overturned.

In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after diving with his left hand stretched toward the plate while catcher Willson Contreras applied a tag. The Dodgers challenged, but the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez's out call.

Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo's double to right two batters later.

Maeda gave up one run and three hits over 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings this postseason.

The Dodgers' defense fell apart in the eighth.

Gonzalez tried flipping Russell's slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.

Contreras followed with a pinch-hit single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag as Russell scored.

Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.

The Dodgers thought they'd finally escaped the inning when Rizzo lined out to second baseman Kike Hernandez, who nearly doubled up Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, prolonging the inning.

Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.

"We can grab that momentum by one name: Kershaw," Gonzalez said. "We don't want to put it all on him, but if we score a couple of runs, we'll feel real good."

Scully returns
Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.

The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" from an upstairs suite.

Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn't on the NLCS roster, but he's contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.

Up next
Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.

Cubs: Hendricks' 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.

MLB Playoffs: Indians reach 1st World Series since 1997

MLB Playoffs: Indians reach 1st World Series since 1997

TORONTO -- For the Cleveland Indians, the script was the same every game -- hope for the best from whoever they started, then count on Andrew Miller and the bullpen to close it out.

That plan seemed especially dicey in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, with lightly used Ryan Merritt on the mound.

But out of nowhere, the rookie delivered.

Merritt coolly kept the Indians ahead until reinforcements arrived, and Cleveland earned its first trip to the World Series since 1997 by blanking the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0 Wednesday.

The 24-year-old lefty defied expectations, shutting down the powerful Blue Jays before exiting in the fifth inning. Thanks to a most unlikely pitching performance, a most unexpected team won the ALCS 4-1.

Cleveland, which has never hosted a World Series opener, will play Game 1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers.

Manager Terry Francona's team will try to augment what's already been a scintillating year in Cleveland after LeBron James and the Cavaliers earned the city's first major pro sports championship since 1964.

The Indians' title drought dates to 1948. In 1997, they let a one-run lead get away in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 and lost to the Florida Marlins in the 11th.

"We always said if we could do it with this group it would be so special because this is as close to a family feel as you can get in a professional setting. So for that part of it, it is beyond feeling good," Francona said (see full recap).

Cubs' bats come alive to even series
LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and the rest of the Chicago Cubs' bats broke out in a big way.

Rizzo homered and ended a postseason slump with three RBIs, Russell's two-run drive highlighted a four-run fourth that stopped Chicago's 21-inning scoreless streak as the Cubs routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 on Wednesday to even the NL Championship Series at 2-all.

Kenta Maeda is set to pitch for the Dodgers in Game 5 on Thursday against Jon Lester. Before the game, manager Dave Roberts said he will not start Clayton Kershaw on short rest after the Los Angeles ace threw a bullpen session Wednesday.

Chicago ensured the NLCS will return to Wrigley Field for Game 6 Saturday.

To break out of his prolonged slump, Rizzo used teammate Matt Szczur's bat.

"I know Szczur's bat has a lot of hits in it," Rizzo said. "I've done it a few times this year, just switching up the bat, switching up the mindset."

Following consecutive shutout losses, the Cubs rapped out 13 hits on an 80-degree (26 degree Celcius) night with the warm Santa Ana winds fluttering the flags in center field.

Rizzo and Russell had three hits each. Chicago's 3-4-5 hitters -- a combined 2 for 32 in the first three games -- busted out. Every Cubs starter got at least one hit except Kris Bryant, who walked twice (see full recap).