Almora's catch sets the tone for Cubs' D

Almora's catch sets the tone for Cubs' D

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Almora Jr.'s catch reinforced why one of Cubs manager Joe Maddon's themes this year is "D-peat."

"As soon as [Almora] caught the ball, Addison Russell came up to me, and said, 'Defense wins you championships,'" Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez said Wednesday. "I truly believe if you run the bases hard every day and play good defense and throw strikes -- hitting comes and goes, everybody knows that -- but if you do those three things consistently, in September, we're playing for something."

The "D-peat" on T-shirts is to remind the Cubs to play defense, and Almora's catch Tuesday night was one of several solid plays that helped preserve a 2-1 win over the Cardinals. The two teams will wrap up the series on Thursdayat 12:45 p.m. CT after rain postponed Wednesday's game. 

Almora snared Matt Adams' potential home run at the center-field wall in the Cardinals seventh. It was a perfectly executed play, said Martinez, who is the Cubs' outfield coach.

Almora Jr. on his amazing catch

"He gets unbelievable jumps on balls; his reads are really, really good -- he's a technician," Martinez said of Almora. "He did everything perfect."

Four-time National League Gold Glove Award winner Jason Heyward liked what he saw from Almora, beginning in Spring Training in 2016.

"I saw him go out and be fearless," Heyward said. "He runs into the wall to catch the baseball. That tells me he's not thinking too much -- in a good way. He's not over-thinking, he's just going out there trusting his ability, trying to get a jump."

And as soon as Almora got back to the dugout, he said to Martinez: "Hey, we worked on that."

Must C: Almora Jr. robs a homer

"I tell them, 'Give me five minutes a day,' and I hit them balls for five minutes, and we work on footwork," Martinez said. "I tell them, 'It may be one or two games where you don't get any balls. [Tuesday] was the first fly ball [Kyle] Schwarber has caught [in left]. He said, 'Man, I finally caught a ball out there.' That's why we work on it every day."

The Cubs compiled 82 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2016, the third-best team season on record since tracking began in 2002. Heyward set the tone, and contributed Tuesday with a nice running catch to rob Matt Carpenter of an extra-base hit in the sixth.

Heyward's jumping catch

"Jason leads the way because what he does in the outfield is so effortless," said Kris Bryant. "You look at Albert, his first game this year, he robs a home run. Let's do this the whole year -- this will be great."

Heyward feels the Cubs defense helped contribute to the team's World Series championship.

"I've kind of got a front-row seat, being the right fielder, I can see the whole field," Heyward said. "Watching [Anthony Rizzo] in front of me, Javy [Baez], [Ben Zobrist] play everywhere, Addy, K.B., we all take pride in it. ... It helps you keep some momentum on your side."

Other teams notice. Bryant said the Cardinals' Yadier Molina told him Almora's catch "was one of the best ones I've seen."

The Cubs pitchers definitely appreciate it. Jake Arrieta got the win, and gave Almora a huge hug in the dugout when he came off the field.

"You understand it will take a lot of different things to win baseball games, whether it's baserunning, whether it's drawing a walk, whether it's playing defense," Heyward said.

• Schwarber was scheduled to start in left field on Wednesday before the game was postponed. Even though the Cubs had Monday off, it would've been his third straight game. In Spring Training, Schwarber would play two games, then get a break as he makes his comeback from two torn ligaments in his left knee.

Schwarber's return to left field

"Now that it's the season, it's anything goes," Schwarber said. "That's what I'm planning. I haven't been told anything, but I'm planning on playing every day until I'm not playing."

How's the knee holding up?

"There's nothing wrong," he said. "It's completely healed now."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.