After losing a series in Philadelphia, the Cubs came home and dominated the Pirates, getting to 70 wins. At 70-60, they led the N.L. Central by 2½ games.
Ever since Mike Montgomery was acquired from the Mariners, he had given tantalizing hints that he might become a solid starting pitcher, something the Cubs surely will need in 2018 and definitely need right now with Jon Lester on the shelf with lat issues.
Monday night, MiMo showed that promise once again, with his longest outing of 2017 and one of his best as a Cub. He scattered six hits and was removed only after Jordy Mercer homered off him leading off the eighth inning. Meanwhile, his Cubs teammates put together a solid offensive effort aided by some sketchy Pirates defense and defeated Pittsburgh 6-1 in the homestand opener.
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a double by Anthony Rizzo and single by Ian Happ. They had two other baserunners in the inning, a single by Jason Heyward, who then stole second, and an intentional pass given to Javier Baez. But in between the run and those runners, Alex Avila hit into a double play, so 1-0 it was.
Meanwhile, Montgomery was sailing along, allowing just three baserunners through the first five innings. That was helped along by some outstanding defense from Javy. With two out and nobody on in the third:
I mean... how does he do that? Diving stop, a turn and pop up to his feet and a throw all in the same motion? El Mago!
Then, with a runner on first and one out in the fifth, Javy snared a line drive off the bat of Chris Stewart and turned it into an inning-ending double play [VIDEO].
In the bottom of the inning, Montgomery bounced a ball just over the outstretched glove of Pirates starter Trevor Williams and beat it out for an infield hit. It’s been pointed out before that Montgomery had posted more career home runs (one) and doubles (one) than the man he was traded for, Dan Vogelbach. Now he has more career hits (five) than Vogelbach (four).
Montgomery went to third on a single by Tommy La Stella and, after Kris Bryant walked, Rizzo sent a ball soaring to the deepest part of Wrigley Field. Credit where credit is due, Andrew McCutchen ran it down:
At first that ball looked like it might have home-run distance, or at least be a two-run double. McCutchen, though... he can still pick it in center field. Tip o’ the cap. Montgomery scored to make it 2-0.
The Cubs scored three runs in wacky style in the seventh. Jon Jay reached when his ground ball was muffed by Sean Rodriguez. One out later, Bryant singled and both men advanced a base on an infield out. Ian Happ was sent to first base on an intentional pass and that brought up Avila, who... well, watch:
At first, that was scored as a single with two RBI and the third run scoring on Stewart’s throwing error. Then it was changed to a single with one RBI, the second run scoring on a throwing error on Rodriguez and the third run on Stewart’s error.
That’s... very, very generous on the official scorer’s part, because if Rodriguez makes a good throw, Avila is out at first and the inning is over. Here, watch it again with some appropriate music added:
Montgomery was, I believe, going to be given a chance at a complete-game shutout, but Mercer’s homer ended his night at 87 pitches (58 strikes). One of the best things about his outing: no walks. Walks had been one of the reasons he had struggled as a starter earlier this year, but if he can keep up command and control this way, maybe the Cubs have found that starter they need in 2018. For the rest of this year, Joe Maddon says the Cubs haven’t yet decided what to do when Lester returns:
Asked before Monday's start if there was anything Montgomery could do to stay in the rotation after Lester's return, Maddon said: "Just keep continuing to pitch well. We haven't discussed a six-man (rotation). That would be the primary way to do it, if we wanted to do something like that. … It's something to watch, but I'm not (seeing) fatigue from the starters now."
Mike Montgomery last 3 starts— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 29, 2017
7/19: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R
8/23: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R
tonight: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R
Combined: 0.95 ERA in 19 IP #Cubs
Keep up the good work!
Anyway, MiMo departed to a standing ovation and Carl Edwards Jr. had an uneventful scoreless eighth, issuing one walk. The Cubs tacked on their sixth and final run on a single by pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist and double by Albert Almora Jr.
Wade Davis, who hadn’t thrown in a week, came into a non-save situation in the ninth, and as you know, sometimes when closers do that they struggle. This time, Davis was pretty sharp, recording a 1-2-3 inning on 16 pitches.
The six runs scored give the Cubs 648 for the season’s 130 games. Once again, they are on pace to match last year’s total of 808 runs. The difference in this year’s record, then, is almost completely attributable to pitching and defense not being as good as in 2016. However, both have improved since the All-Star break, and the Cubs are 27-15 since the break with a run differential of +73 (they were exactly even in RS/RA at the break at 399-399). The post-ASB record is a winning percentage of .643. Continuing at that pace for the rest of the year would mean 91 wins, and continuing with the current run differential pace would give the Cubs a +129 differential at season’s end.
Here are all the teams in Cubs history (since 1900) with a run differential of +129 or better: 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1945, 2008, 2016. So that’s 16 years out of 117 (1900-2016), and if they can make it 17 this year, that would put this year’s Cubs team in the realm of multiple previous pennant winners. Of those 16, all but the 1918 and 1936 clubs in that list won at least 90 games (and 1918’s team would have if the season hadn’t been cut short due to World War I). Despite all the troubles this year, the 2017 Cubs appear to be a pretty good ballclub.
The tarp was on the field when the gates opened at Wrigley, but only a couple of sprinkles fell, even while parts of the Chicago area got downpours. The rest of the evening was dry, if a bit cool, somewhat autumn-like, perhaps getting us ready for what the ballpark might feel like in October. And thanks to BCB’s Sara Sanchez for spending her evening in the bleachers with our group.
The win dropped the Pirates back to eight games behind, and the Cubs’ other N.L. Central opponents, the Brewers and Cardinals, had the night off. That ticked the Cubs’ lead over them to 2½ games over Milwaukee and five over St. Louis. The Brewers and Cardinals play in Milwaukee Tuesday and Wednesday night and I suppose the best result would be a split, though if the Cubs can win their next two games, it might be better if the Brewers lost twice. Of course, all the Cubs can do is take care of their own business and if they do, the rest won’t matter.
Tuesday night, Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs and Chad Kuhl for the Pirates.