Mike Montgomery posted one of his best starts as a Cub: six innings, three hits, no runs. The Cubs improved to 36-34, and closed to within half a game of the first-place Brewers in the N.L. Central.
Those of us of “a certain age” remember well WGN-TV’s “Leadoff Man” show back in the 1970s. The opening of the show looked and sounded like this:
Anthony Rizzo is no TV host. However, for the last seven games he has provided not only TV entertainment as the Cubs’ leadoff man, but also some much-needed offense for the team. Tuesday night against the Padres, Rizzo homered to lead off the Cubs’ first inning — for the third time in those seven games:
Intentionally walk the leadoff man? Hey, might need to think about it against @ARizzo44. pic.twitter.com/HEXmJvf2wr— MLB (@MLB) June 21, 2017
Rizzo’s debut as the Cubs’ leadoff man has been remarkable. Here are just a few fun facts about his weeklong run:
Anthony Rizzo: first #Cubs leadoff man to get on base to lead off a game in 7 straight games since Richie Ashburn June 28-July 3, 1960— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 21, 2017
Most Leadoff HR this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 21, 2017
(Anthony Rizzo tied for 4th despite leading off in only 7 games) #Cubs pic.twitter.com/8RvJdtB2Ej
#Cubs first PA of game this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 21, 2017
Anthony Rizzo: 7 Games 3 Home Runs 16 Total Bases
Everyone Else: 63 Games 1 Home Run 17 Total Bases
Career leadoff HR by a #Cubs first baseman— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 21, 2017
3 Anthony Rizzo
3 Rick Monday
2 Dee Fondy
There’s more, but you get the idea. Hitting Rizzo leadoff is unconventional, but it’s working. Since being moved to the leadoff spot Rizzo is hitting .429/.469/.1.000 (12-for-28) with two doubles, a triple and four home runs. In his career-high 14-game hitting streak he’s now at .420/.524/.860 (21-for-50) with 5 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 12 runs scored, 12 walks and 17 RBI.
I’d say keep doing this as long as it keeps working. And Rizzo and Joe Maddon feel the same way:
#Cubs Maddon on Riz: "On a nightly basis, he's ready, he's chirpy, he's ready to go and he's loving this. He's helping us out incredibly"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 21, 2017
#Cubs Rizzo on leading off: "As long as we keep winning, I have no problem with it"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 21, 2017
Rizzo wasn’t the only Cub to provide excellent performance Tuesday evening. Mike Montgomery had his best start as a Cub, six shutout innings in which he allowed just three hits and a walk. Just two Padres got past first base in the Cubs’ 4-0 win, and Montgomery succeeded by doing what many have always said he needed to do: throw strikes. He threw 49 strikes in 75 pitches and induced a lot of weak contact, getting 12 of his 18 outs on ground balls. It was easy to see the talent that made him a No. 1 draft pick. If he can continue to do this it will help solve one of the Cubs’ most nagging problems, starting pitching.
It was the Cubs’ third shutout win of 2017, but first since April 25, when they shut out the Pirates 1-0.
The Cubs posted another run in the fourth. Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch and stole second. After Jhoulys Chacin ran the count to 3-0 on Ian Happ, he was sent to first base with the wave of a hand. Addison Russell followed with an RBI single.
Give Chacin credit; he threw pretty well in six innings, allowing just the two runs. The Cubs had him in trouble in the sixth when they loaded the bases on three singles with one out, but Javier Baez hit into a force play at the plate and pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella grounded out.
Carl Edwards Jr. was the first reliever out of the Cubs bullpen. He retired the first two batters he faced, then issued a walk and allowed a base hit. Former Cub Matt Szczur was next, as a pinch hitter. CJ struck him out to end the inning. Pedro Strop threw the eighth and also allowed a pair of baserunners, including a leadoff double, but got out of the inning unscored upon.
That’s when the Cubs put the game away. Happ had hit his first seven homers batting lefthanded until a ninth-inning blast righthanded Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Now he has two homers hitting righthanded [VIDEO].
That ball was launched pretty high in the air:
June 21, 2017
Oddly specific stat of the day regarding Happ’s homer:
Most HR through first 33 career MLB games, #Cubs (1913-present)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 21, 2017
10 Bob Speake 1955
9 Ian Happ 2017
9 Mandy Brooks 1925
You probably haven’t heard of either Speake or Brooks unless you are steeped in Cubs history. Brooks hit pretty well in 1925, then hit .188/.278/.271 in 26 games in 1926 and never played in the major leagues again. Speake came to the Cubs with a lot of hype and promise in 1955 and after those first 33 games was hitting .302/.387/.708 with those 10 homers. The rest of that year he hit just .170/.251/.265 with two home runs and was benched most of the time. Eventually he was traded to the Giants for Bobby Thomson, a deal that worked out all right, as Thomson had a couple of decent years for the Cubs in 1958 and 1959.
Happ, I’m reasonably certain, will have a much better career than either Speake or Brooks.
The Cubs’ final run scored when Baez singled and took third when the ball went under Franchy Cordero’s glove for a two-base error, and Albert Almora Jr. doubled him in [VIDEO].
Almora was called out at third. The Cubs challenged, but it was ruled “call stands.”
Both Wade Davis and Justin Grimm were warming up during the Cubs’ eighth inning, but once the game was removed from a save situation, Grimm came on to throw the ninth. Grimm has been really good since his recall from Triple-A Iowa in late May, and he took care of the Padres 1-2-3. Since returning, Grimm has made nine appearances covering 10 innings. He’s allowed three hits and two walks (0.500 WHIP), has given up one run (0.90 ERA) and struck out 15. If he can keep up this kind of performance, Joe Maddon will have someone else he can call on in higher-leverage situations.
So far in this series, the Cubs haven’t scored a lot of runs (just seven in two games), but they’ve done what they had to in order to win over a team they really should defeat. With the Brewers losing to the Pirates the Cubs moved to within half a game of first place in the N.L. Central, and are now one game ahead of Milwaukee in the loss column.
They’ll go for the sweep Wednesday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CT. Eddie Butler gets the call for the Cubs against the Padres’ Miguel Diaz.