Saturday night, we all saw why Cubs scouts were excited for the team to trade for Mike Montgomery. A former No. 1 draft pick (by the Royals), Montgomery had been shaky in his first few relief outings for the Cubs following his acquisition from the Mariners.
Montgomery took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, which was broken up by a home run off the bat of Nick Hundley, the only hit Montgomery allowed, as he was promptly lifted on a pitch limit (60). Trevor Cahill finished up with a similar outing -- one run in 4⅔ innings -- and the Cubs rode a 15-hit attack to a 9-2 win over the Rockies, evening up their series.
Montgomery will get at least one more start, Friday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, before John Lackey returns to the rotation. With Lackey likely leaving the team via free agency after 2017, Montgomery becomes an important potential rotation piece going forward. Bonus points, too, for being lefthanded -- good lefthanded starters aren't easy to find.
While the pitching duo of Montgomery & Cahill (law firm? upscale grocery store chain?) was holding the Rockies to just five hits, the Cubs offense was putting the game out of reach. After failing to score off Rox rookie Jeff Hoffman in the first three innings, they got things going in the fourth. Dexter Fowler led off with a single and went all the way to third on a missed pickoff attempt by Hoffman, and scored on a single by Kris Bryant. After a single by Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist doubled in Bryant, and eventually Miguel Montero drove them both in with a hit. Montero had an outstanding evening. He had three hits and drove in three runs and made this ridiculous throw [VIDEO] to get Ryan Raburn on a dropped third strike. "Like a shortstop," said Jim Deshaies, and he was right. That ball bounced far away from Montero, but he grabbed it on one bounce and one-hopped it to Rizzo for the out.
The biggest offensive play of the evening for the Cubs happened in the fifth inning, when they were up 4-0 after the fourth-inning rally. Montgomery reached on a fielding error (they probably could have given him a hit), Fowler walked, and Bryant... well, watch for yourself:
Kris Bryant just hit a baseball 469ft... 108 MPH off the bat. Wow.— Daren Willman (@darenw) August 21, 2016
That's the longest home run hit by any Cubs player this year and eighth-longest by anyone. It was Bryant's 31st of the season, giving him the National League home run lead by one over the Rockies' Nolan Arenado, who's been quiet in this series (0-for-7).
The Cubs added single runs in the seventh (Montero's third RBI) and ninth (Ben Zobrist's 14th homer of the season), while Cahill was quietly mowing down Rockies hitters.
As an example of how antiquated the pitcher-win rule is, Montgomery and Cahill had pretty much equivalent outings. Montgomery: 4⅓ innings, 60 pitches, one hit, one run, two walks, five strikeouts. Cahill: 4⅔ innings, 69 pitches, four hits, one run, one walk, four strikeouts. And yet, because a rule's in place that a starter has to go five innings for a "win," Cahill gets the "win," and Montgomery gets a hearty handshake.
If pitcher wins are still going to be tallied in this era of "bullpen games" and multiple pitching changes per game, perhaps the five-inning rule should be revisited.
About the only thing that went wrong in this game was Jorge Soler fouling a ball off his knee in the seventh. He completed the at-bat, but then was lifted for Javier Baez. Hopefully, that was just a precaution and Soler will be fine for Sunday's game.
The seven-run victory made the Cubs' record in blowouts (wins by five or more) 36-9. It also increased the run differential to +215, which is 1.76 runs per game. That's a pace for +285. The team record is +323, set in 1906.
With the Cardinals' loss to the Phillies, the Cubs' magic number to clinch the N.L. Central title dropped to 28. There are two more elimination numbers to note: the Cubs' magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 27, and the number to clinch the best record in the National League (currently over the East-leading Nationals) is 36.
The Cubs go for the series win, and to again try to get to the highest-water mark since 1945 (35 games over .500), Sunday afternoon. Jason Hammel goes for the Cubs and Jorge De La Rosa for the Rockies. Game time is 3:10 p.m. CT; the game preview will post at 1 p.m. CT.