LOS ANGELES -- The Cubs have been thrilled with what they have seen from Albert Almora Jr. all year and into the postseason, and they believe the young outfielder has a bright future moving forward.
Almora gave the Cubs an early jolt Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, launching a two-run home run off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the fourth inning for the first runs of the series. But unfortunately for the Cubs, the fast start did not hold up in an eventual 5-2 loss.
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"I was just excited to put the team on the board and to start off the series like that," said Almora, a 23-year-old who made his third career postseason start. "I think that was a good way to get going."
Almora turned on a 3-2 slider from Kershaw and sent it into the Dodgers bullpen in left field. His first career postseason homer was a line drive that left the bat at 106 mph, had a 21-degree launch angle and traveled a projected 412 feet, according to Statcast™.
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"I'm just trying to get a pitch to hit, trying to get deep into counts," Almora said. "I saw in the first at-bat they weren't really throwing me strikes and I was kind of excited. With the crowd and the situation, you want to do well. But, after that, I settled back in, and I don't usually feel pressure or anything like that, it's the same game if it's in June or October. Now, it's on national television every night."
That Almora made an in-game adjustment from one at-bat to the next, on a big stage in the NLCS and against an elite pitcher such as Kershaw, is one example of why the Cubs are high on their 2012 first-round -- and sixth overall -- Draft pick.
"He's slowed the game down," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Albert, moving forward, is going to be a really good everyday Major League Baseball player."
Almora has also shown the ability to produce against left-handed pitching, batting .342 (38-for-111) with four home runs against lefties in the regular season. That alone was one reason Maddon felt confident starting Almora against Kershaw in Game 1.
"Albert hits lefties," Maddon said. "He really does a nice job of that. He's been swinging the bat really well. Bully for him. If you look at his numbers during the course of the season, he's pretty much been that guy. Though he's gotten better against righties recently. He's playing at a high level."
First baseman Anthony Rizzo said the Cubs felt Almora's homer would be the story of the game at the time. Instead, the Dodgers responded with five runs and their bullpen proceeded to shut down the Cubs' bats.
"I think we played a great game," Almora said. "Just a couple pitches went the other way. Great teams take advantage of that, and they did. We had the lead. I don't think we played a bad game at all. We were in there all the way to the end."