Cubs

Cubs see Montgomery burned as Brewers draw closer in NL Central

Cubs see Montgomery burned as Brewers draw closer in NL Central

Here’s a wild split: Against teams not based in Milwaukee, Mike Montgomery has a 2.80 ERA and 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2017. Against the Milwaukee Brewers, Montgomery has a 10.13 ERA and 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

For whatever reason, Montgomery has struggled mightily against the Brewers this year. Saturday was no different, with Montgomery allowing four runs on two hits and four walks and recording only six outs before being pulled in the midst of a disastrous third inning. Milwaukee plated eight off Montgomery and right-hander Justin Grimm in that frame and went on to win, 15-2, moving within three games of the Cubs in the National League Central.

“I’m all about Mike pitching the next time out and doing well,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just one of those days, you have to continue to support — you’ve seen him pitch really well, that’s just a tough day for him right there. … He’s been pitching well, overall. His overall body of work has been good. Against this team, for me, I’m seeing him not hitting the strike zone.

The Cubs can always alter their rotation, especially with a swingman like Montgomery. But with Jake Arrieta (hamstring) likely to miss his next start, Montgomery could start Thursday against the New York Mets or Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals. And if Arrieta were to miss his next turn in the rotation beyond next week and the Cubs line up Montgomery to pitch every fifth game, he would start the opening game of what could be a pivotal series against the Brewers at Miller Park on Thursday, Sept. 21.

“Definitely, I gotta do a lot better out there,” Montgomery said.

There are some ifs in there, though, and plenty of time for the Cubs to adjust things and/or get Arrieta back. And if the Cubs can salvage a win on Sunday, they’ll still hold a four-game lead over Milwaukee with 19 games to go (the Cardinals, too, are still a threat).  

As a reliever, Montgomery has limited opponents to a .620 OPS and boasts a 2.57 ERA (and, of course, he earned the save in Game 7 of the World Series a year ago). Whatever his role, though, the Cubs may need Montgomery to make sure they can have a chance to defend their title.

“I think it kind of just reminds us that (the Brewers), they don’t look at us as the team to beat,” Montgomery said. “They think they’re the team to beat. And they come to play and act like it. So it just kind of reminds us that we really gotta bring it against them.” 

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.