It is amazing what good pitching does for the feeling you have in a game. The scoring is easy to recap and the game was never out of reach for either team. But it never felt like the game was in jeopardy for the Cubs either.
The game began with a bloop hit by Josh Harrison on the first pitch. Austin Meadows hit a hard groundball that Javier Báez was unable to reach for the second hit with just 4 pitches thrown. Starling Marte hit a soft flyball into center to drive in the only Pirates tally on the day.
Kris Bryant hit a single in his first at bat as a leadoff hitter. He would manage three hits on the day in total. Jason Heyward doubled down the left field line to put two runners in scoring position early for the Cubs. Ben Zobrist singled up the middle to the tie the game, and Anthony Rizzo provided another go ahead RBI with his sacrifice fly. The Cubs could muster no further damage in the inning with a Willson Contreras fly out and Báez strike out.
The Cubs added to their lead in the bottom of the second inning. Mike Montgomery walked with one out proving that it isn't just Cubs pitchers that walk their counterparts. They loaded the bases with Bryant and Heyward singles. Zobrist grounded into a fielder's choice to drive in Montgomery. Rizzo struck out to end the inning.
The Pirates threatened to get back into the game in the top of the third. Montgomery gave up a single and walked a batter with just one out. Ian Happ made a diving catch with two outs to prevent any damage from being done. Montgomery pitched six scoreless innings before giving way to the bullpen.
The Cubs put runners on base in the fourth, fifth and sixth inning but between performance in the batter's box and outs on the basepaths, they couldn't add to their lead. It didn't matter as Cory Mazzoni, Randy Rosario and Pedro Strop combined for three more scoreless innings. The game ended dramatically with the third and best diving catch made by Ian Happ. It was somewhat dramatic as Colin Moran had lead off the ninth with a single and had moved to third with two outs.
In the end it was the Cubs 36th win and moved the team into first place at least temporarily.
Mike Montgomery has pitched really well as a temporary replacement for Yu Darvish, and probably should stay in the rotation for the immediate future. It isn't even a question until Yu Darvish is healthy, and it is almost guaranteed that Darvish won't be ready to take his turn until after the Cubs next offday Thursday. That begins the Cubs longest consecutive games stretch and a period where you might have penciled the Cubs going to a 6 man rotation anyway. Either way it is certainly more pleasing to watch Montgomery challenge hitters then the high wire act of Tyler Chatwood.
However, the first few innings showed the problem with Mike Montgomery starter. He was blooped and BABIPed into giving up a run. He was close to giving up some more before his defense made some nice plays as well. And that is just what happens when you pitch to contact as much as Monty does. He had good enough command to put up a quality start, but when he doesn't it results in walks and longballs. The bottomline is that Montgomery is certainly good enough to be one of the 150 best starting pitchers in baseball. However he is probably a lot closer to the bottom of that number than the top despite the stellar ERA results so far in the rotation.
The Maddon Leadoff Solution
It worked once again. Joe Maddon has had this trick up his sleeve of inserting a more traditional run producer into the leadoff spot when they are struggling. He has done in Tampa Bay with Evan Longoria. He has done it here with Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras. And at least here it seems to work every time. Now Bryant is supposedly going to get at least another day at the top of the lineup, but I am hoping that Maddon considers this a permanent thing. Bryant does so many things that you want from a leadoff hitter. He has excellent command of the strikezone and is an elite base runner. His baseball acumen is high enough that we shouldn't worry about him being out of sorts in that role either. I also love watching a productive Jason Heyward behind him with their base running skills.
Almora would've cau---I mean Happ caught it
It is hard for us amateurs to rate outfield defense. Many spectuclar plays in the outfield are as much the result of the limitations of the outfielder as a great play. Jason Heyward is an excellent example of this when he makes difficult plays look routine frequently. I think there was certainly some of that in the three diving catches made by Happ this afternoon. He didn't take the best routes and his raw athleticism turned those into outs despite it. However, he does deserve praise after being much maligned for his play in the outfield. His bat has come around, and as a corner outfield player he definitely has a lot of value for the 2018 Cubs.
Normally here I make a silly reference to something written by someone more talented than me and performed by people more talented as well to try to make myself seem funny. However, today it is a little bit different. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by suicide today, and the outpouring of emotion has truly moved me. I'll be honest suicide strikes close to home for me because two of the men I asked to stand at my wedding attempted to take their own lives. Bourdain meant a lot to a lot of people, and seemed to have been both a genuine and empathetic human being. Those are two qualities I think most of us can agree seem to be in short supply these days, and so here are two wonderful human beings in Anthony Bourdain and Andrew McCutchen talking.