Kuhl Win--Cubs 3 Pirates 1

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.

WPA CHART

Source: FanGraphs

Debbie Downer
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.

Random Reference
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.

Comments

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  • The Anthony Bourdain suicide hit me hard as well. I was a big fan of his show. My wife was literally reading his first book last night before bed. Suicide hits close to home for me as well (I’ll leave it at that).

    I think you’re selling Montgomery short. Peace.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I very well could be selling him short but I just think he will get exposed more times out unless he develops more of a put away pitch. We saw this pattern last year. He generates a lot of groundball and weak contact but the margin of error is small when you are that type of pitcher.

    He is a starting pitcher. I just think he is more of a 4-5 than middle of rotation guy.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    I think that is spot on. We may get a little too excited over Monty's success simply due to our frustrations with Yu and Chatwood. Monty is a swingman on our team, and as high as a 3 on a bad team. I love the guy and am glad he is on our team, but I just think current circumstances may be elevating expectations.

    On a positive related note, I saw that Smyly was throwing off the mound at Wrigley before today's game. It sounds like the plan is for another week or so of full-on bullpen sessions before a trip to Arizona to pitch a few simulated games. If all goes well, he could begin pitching rehab games in the minors sometime in July.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    But how do we know if he gets expose if he doesn’t get a chance too. I’d rather watch Monty pitch and have more confidence in him over Chattwood. You could be right or wrong. I believe he deserves a chance. Isn’t it something like in his 10 cub starts he has only given up more then couple runs in only 2. Small sample but that deserves a try for a large sample.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I think I've consistently said he deserves to be a starter and I think he will get more opportunities this year and beyond.

    What I also think is that there will be games where he gets babip-ed to death when he is on (which nearly happened yesterday) and it will be ugly when he isnt. That is unless he develops a way to put away consistently without relying on his defenders.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    You can rely on your babip stat to argue against him. We can all find a stat why a guy should or shouldn’t play but you gotta check results.
    Some mentioned Happ has a nice babip stat but his average stinks and he swings and misses a ton.
    Monty deserves that chance to see if your stat holds up.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Insert "I don't know what we are yelling about!" Anchorman reference here. I agree he deserves a chance to start and I do think he is good enough to be a starter. I just think based on what I've seen of Mike Montgomery starter the past 2 years that the results won't be as stellar as the end results have been the past 3 times out. I've tried to explain why I feel that with a few numbers (though to be honest I am not sure what his BABIP numbers are this season) but mostly it is a feel thing that I haven't dug too deep into numbers to confirm.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    Cannon ball!!!!! I hope he gets a chance.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    Throwing "a lot" of ground balls is a pretty good plan with Bryant,Russell,Baez, Rizzo; on the infield. Jon Lester figured that out well early on in this fun ride.

  • In reply to KJRyno:

    Groundballs are good but Lester also strikes out way more hitters. Lester is so good because he does both.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    I have to agree with MB here, MM is a classic case of the Cubs, as an ORGANIZATION, putting players in a position to succeed.

    In a vacuum the ?, Does M.Montgomery have the stuff to be a fifth starter on a ChampionShip team,
    Maybe.
    Does he have the command of, Kyle Hendricks,
    No
    The wicked stuff that a Chatwood has to fall back on, sans command;
    No
    Has Chatwood shown an ability to succeed in the role MM fills;
    No
    MM is a victim of his own success. Andrew Miller lite? And still arb eligible.

    To borrow from BP, and a much broader point

    Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did.
    [winks at Dean Wormer]
    Otter: But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!
    [Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]

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    In reply to Mike Banghart:

    I am starting to think less and less that Montgomery is an illusion. I agree he is probably not a MOR starter. But he could very well be a good #4 who has outstanding games occasionally. Something like Jason Hammel. There was a stretch in 2016 where he was one of the best pitchers in the rotation.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    That’s kinda the point, we know (as the Cubs well know) that MM is who he is
    A possible back end starter
    A possible backend starter who also has a history of success as a reliever in multiple roles on a championship team
    A possible backend starter who also has a history of success as a reliever in multiple roles on a championship team and three years of control left after 2018
    A possible backend starter who also has a history of success as a reliever in multiple roles on a championship team and three years of control left after 2018 who is 29 and currently earning league minimum.

  • Thank you. May I have another?

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    Absolutely!

  • I hadn't heard about Bourdain. I'll check into that now. I was a fan of his show and life, because he lived many of my interests. Travel, food, and experiencing different cultures to take you out of your comfort zone and force yourself to examine your own prejudices and grow intellectually and spiritually. That is sad news.

  • It will take a lot of games to balance the anomaly where this club (playing at .600) is presently tied for the division lead (though at the time of this recorded thought the Brewers hold a 9-0 lead over the fading Phillies), the Cubs have recorded the least amount of losses. Always noting this because you can never make up a loss and even if behind in the win column it means you control your own destiny. So when they are 8-17 in games which they score 3 runs or less winning 3-1 is an eyebrow raising. What I noted in the last few games since the J-Hey Grandie or Grandies, the Cubs have begun to start plating runners at 3B by putting the ball in play. (ZOBRIST, Heyward, Rizzo) . You can be a stat head like myself when it suits you but RBI's and runs scored are meaningful stats. Interestingly both Zobrist and Heyward have 157 AB's (Zo w/177 PA's, J-Hey w/173) , Zo w/23 RBI's and J-Hey w/25.

    And this is the segue I am trying to lead Banghart. Bryant in the lead off spot. Bryant has the club's highest OBP, 406 and steady. He runs well and in a post game interview said lead off outside of the first AB is no big deal, but in college his sophomore year he was his team's lead off hitter. WHOA...That would allow Zobrist (and J-Hey batting 2nd) where these two put the ball in play, especially w/men on base in front Rizzo. I then checked the team stats and three are tied for the lead on the club at 35, Bryant, Almora and Baez.

  • I do feel compelled to give a lyrical tribute to Anthony Bourdain. Sorry, I know it isn't baseball. I admired that dude. I vehemently disagreed with many of his worldviews but that was his whole point. Challenge yourself and your own beliefs. Confront your boundaries. See the other side, and try to learn from it.

    "Got no time for spreadin' roots.
    The time has come to be gone.
    And though our health we've drank a thousand times,
    It's time to ramble on."

    Thanks, Mr. Bourdain. RIP.

  • I haven't checked today's game thread to see the lineup criticisms (as I'm sure it happened today), but I gotta say, when I saw the starting lineup, I was intrigued and liked it! It didn't produce quite as much as we all hoped it would, but with Heyward's and Zobrist's ability to both put the bat on the ball and put it in play (especially since Heyward is starting to look like he's swinging the bat with some confidence), there should be lots of run scoring opportunities with that lineup.

    On another note, props to Happ for playing some spectacular defense today!

    And nothing is better than seeing Heyward have some confidence in the batters box.

    Hopefully Javy will realize soon, again, that it's okay to cut down that swing a little bit and look the other way...

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    One thing better than seeing Heyward have confidence in the box is that W flying high on the scoreboard, but I get your point.

    Javy, oh my enigmatic Javy. I posted a pretty strong critique of my boy last night, but the filter got it. The staff fished it out, but I'll repeat.

    I've noted numerous times that sometimes these ultra-talented young players can be slow to develop. They may shun coaching and push back against well-meaning criticism. What they have always done has always worked, so why change?

    Javier Baez is perhaps the most interesting ballplayer I've ever seen. He makes defensive plays like a peacock during a mating dance, just to strut his stuff. He runs the bases as is the opposing defense is fielded by pre-schoolers. He is the captain on the field and eagerly instructs his teammates what to do, and his teammates eagerly follow. He is El Mago.

    He is the best at everything, except one thing. He has made dramatic strides in his offensive game, but has so far refused to take that final step. The one that would propell him to true superstar status: plate discipline.

    He has to know this. His baseball intelligence is off the freaking charts. Why can the whole baseball universe see this glaring weakness yet he remain so blind? As much as I love Javy, I am coming to grips with the all-too-obvious answer: there is a level of arrogance and selfishness.

    Javy knows what he needs to do to take that step into the elite level, but he has so far refused to. He proudly pronounces that he doesn't go to the plate to walk. That's all good, because he does a lot of damage swinging the bat, but also does a lot of damage by swinging his damned bat.

    I really believe that Javy wants to be the best. He always has been, but not now at this highest level. I truly think he will have an epiphany and realize that the little bit of extra discipline, and restraint, can put him over the top. I just don't know when that will happen, and obviously, neither does he.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    First off, the sentence, "because he does a lot of damage swinging the bat, but also does a lot of damage by swinging his damned bat," is one of my favorite of all time. Not only is it true but it is so well phrased.

    I keep coming back to my assessment of him that I have had for the last couple years: He is what he is. He offers intriguing glimpses into how far his talent can go. He lets the unicorn out of the pen you saw in his house (remember that exchange?).

    But plate discipline is a very difficult skill to "learn" in upper level professional baseball. I have never read that Javy is "resistant" to coaching or disregards constructive criticism. Remember, he is, by all accounts, a baseball-rat. If he takes that next step then talk of MVPs will be justified. Until then he will be a leader on the field, a good fielder, an outstanding baserunner (I also like your description of him running bases as if the opposing team were populated by pre-schoolers...and more often than not he is safe). And hit his .250-.270/.320-.335/.480-.550. Still a productive player and one I like having on the team, but will likely never reach his ceiling. He will keep the unicorn hidden.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    #FreetheUnicorn

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    LOL

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I say this in the most fun way as possible, but how does that saying go about insanity and doing the same things yet expecting different results? He doesn’t hide the fact that he is going to do what he does, which is take big rips at almost all pitches.

    Looking at Javy’s 2018 game logs, he had a 15-game run where he showed us the hitter he has the potential to be when at his best. The 369/.379/.831/1.210 he created in that run is ridiculous and worth “settling for.” So are his 7 doubles, 1 triple, 7 HR, and 22 RBIs from that same stretch.

    The problem is he rode that high out through his next 12 games where it appeared he was still hitting ok, but was in free fall with a .240/.235/.480/.715 slash line.

    Of course that wasn’t even truly his free fall. Was that rock bottom yet? Of course not, because he’s Javy. In his next, and last 22 games played, his slash line is now .207/.224/.390/.614.

    In the last 22 games, unfortunately to match his poor approach, he hasn’t been nearly the run producer he was during the aforementioned 15-game and 12-game samples.

    I want to believe that Javy is someone who falls between the 15 and 12 game samples, but the truth may be that he’s someone who falls between the 12 and 22 game samples.

    Unfortunaley, the only real career improvement for Javy in 2018 is his slugging %. It’s now .531 compared to his .480 and .423 of the previous 2 season’s, or his .443 career. Otherwise he is the same or worse in about all other categories. At this point I wonder if he can even sustain his run production when pitchers will never have to give in and actually pitch to him. I even find myself wondering with his 46 RBI over just a third of the season, if he can finish the season with over 100 RBI. If you had to bet your house/life savings on it, would you take the over or the under?

    I love Javy. He’s the most fun player to watch play the game! It’s not even close, but man when he steps into the batters box, he needs to learn to get out of his own “gosh darn” way...

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    Mike,
    First of all, great name for the article. Thumbs up.

    Second, I agree on the difficulty of evaluating defense, especially in the OF. On TV it is nearly impossible to judge how good of a jump a player gets on defense. They don't change the camera angle quickly enough. Personally, I would love to see a "picture-in-picture" with a camera set up behind home plate and elevated so I can see all the fielders. Then, in a smaller picture I could see the pitcher-batter-catcher-umpire traditional view. But that is just me.

    As for Montgomery, he does need a put away pitch. And his "ceiling" was always a MOR. He may never reach that. But if he develops that put-away pitch he might just become one. He is a valuable guy to have around and I wish him the best. And, for Cubs fans, he will always be the guy that got the biggest save in the history of baseball.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Will take Monty and a put away pitch. Because his curve is first pitch and he often leads in getting counts either 1-2 or 2-1 then seeks to get an off balance contact there is the problem. He either has to develop a hard cutter or hard slider in and down. The FB then is a look at me out of the zone of pin point on the batter;s weak side.

    Now as Michael and I have talked about here and there, Cubs are looking or evolving into a 6 man rotation at least through August, while using a Des Moines carousal for the end of the bullpen arm.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    HUH.

  • The filter's on me. That was a long one talking crap about my boy Javy. I don't want to do that again. Help, please.

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    Was it just me or do you think the cubs spent a good portion of the draft on this leadoff position? Because of all the different spots people can play on defense, you can really rotate your team around. So their biggest weakness is leadoff, so they it it hard? Now the question is time it takes to get to the major league?

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    In reply to Daniel Stone:

    I don't think that the Cubs drafted for need like that. What I thought was they drafted for "hit" tool. But we'll see. In general, I think they simply went BPA.

  • In reply to Daniel Stone:

    I think it is just you.

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