Yu Darvish's arrival took a starting spot from Mike Montgomery, but he's still mighty valuable to Cubs' championship hopes

Yu Darvish's arrival took a starting spot from Mike Montgomery, but he's still mighty valuable to Cubs' championship hopes

Let's be honest, Mike Montgomery didn't get what he wanted.

No matter how much truth there was to that report during the Winter Meetings that Montgomery wanted a spot in the Cubs' rotation or to be traded away from the North Side, he's never been shy when it comes to talking about his desire to be a major league starting pitcher.

That doesn't mean he won't do what's asked of him, though.

Montgomery got a starting role taken away from him as he reported to spring training, with the Cubs signing Yu Darvish to a six-year deal to build a super rotation, perhaps the finest starting staff in baseball. Lined up to be the fifth starter on a team with championship aspirations, he got bumped back to the bullpen as the front office laid down its expectations for 2018: World Series or bust.

"It’s something that I’ve learned and been a part of and experienced throughout my career, you realize that it is more beneficial to be someone that is a good teammate," Montgomery said last month at the outset of spring training in Arizona. "Winning the World Series a couple years ago and even getting to the playoffs last year, you realize being on a winning team is the most important. That’s why we play the game, that’s why we play sports is to win. I think my role will find a way. I think if I’m good, there will definitely be times where I’ll be where I want to be."

Montgomery's presence in the 'pen is part of what makes those championship expectations a little more realistic. Montgomery is a quality long reliever, so he strengthens a relief corps coming off a shaky 2017 postseason. On top of that, he gives the Cubs a de facto sixth starter, a guy they can count on when one of their five guys in the rotation eventually misses a start due to injury or fatigue or whatever. That's the nature of baseball. Heck, the Cubs have even dabbled with six-man rotations in recent seasons.

The Cubs didn't appear to have much quality depth past the five guys in the starting rotation before the Darvish signing. Remember Eddie Butler's 2017 season? He made it out of the sixth inning just once in 11 starts, and he might have been the next man up had there been an injury in the starting rotation. But Darvish's arrival changed all that, giving the Cubs a legitimate fill-in in Montgomery.

"At this point, I feel like I’ve experienced all different roles, so I’m ready for anything," he said. "Talking with Theo (Epstein) and Joe (Maddon), the season’s so long, so much can happen. I am ready. I think it’s important to get me stretched out, that way if something does happen or if the need arises for me to be in the rotation, then I’ll be ready.

"At the end of the day, if I’m good, I’m going to need to throw some innings for this team and help them out. And I think there’s plenty of ways to do that and still maintain my physical health and to keep me at my best."

The focus on not burning Montgomery out was a frequent presence in his comments following the Darvish signing and the realization that he'd be back in the same role he had last season. Montgomery made 14 starts in 2017, all in the last four months of the regular season. Listed out, though, his outings look like this, starting with his first start of the season on June 9: six starts, a three-inning relief appearance before the All-Star break, two starts out of the All-Star break, then eight relief appearances in less than a month, then four more starts, then two innings of relief, then a start, then two more relief outings and a start on the final day of the regular season.

Bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen is hardly uncommon. But that type of ping-ponging couldn't have been good for Montgomery's arm. And so while he's perfectly willing to take on a similar role in 2018 as the Cubs have their sights on winning their second World Series title in three seasons, he's asking for the team to be a bit smarter how about how he's used.

"I know last year toward the end, the workload got to me," Montgomery said. "But it was also something different and unique that you don’t see a lot where I’m making starts and relief appearances. I start and then I come out of the bullpen a few days later, kind of took its toll. For me, I wanted to pitch every opportunity I could, but maybe taking a step back and being a little smarter about my willingness, ‘I’ll pitch today, I’ll pitch tomorrow.’

"One of the things I was talking with them about was bouncing back and forth in the middle of the season and how to maybe be a little smarter about those transitions. Like not coming out of the bullpen right after I just threw six innings two days before. I think maybe those transitions are something we can work on.

"You want to have a long career, but you also want to give everything you’ve got right away. And sometimes that might put your health in jeopardy. But just balancing that is a learning process for me and for the team. Right now I feel good. As long as I feel good, I’m going to do all the things that I’ve done in the past to keep me there."

There will be an incredible amount of focus on the Cubs' stacked rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood. But perhaps just as important a piece will be Montgomery, coming out of the bullpen to provide valuable relief innings and undoubtedly subbing in for a starter when the regularities of the baseball season deem it necessary. That depth behind those five guys in starring roles could end up being an important reason why the Cubs are playing deep into October for the fourth straight season.

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Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Washington Nationals

2017 record: 97-65, 1st place in NL East

Offseason additions: Miguel Montero, Matt Adams, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Reynolds, Jeremy Hellickson, Tommy Milone

Offseason departures: Adam Lind, Stephen Drew, Jose Lobaton, Jayson Werth, Matt Albers, Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton

X-factor: The health of their stars

Health is an X-factor for any team, but it carries more weight in D.C. than anywhere else in baseball.

Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Stephen Strasburg are three of the Nationals' best players and yet three guys that can't seem to stay healthy for a full season. Couple that group with leadoff hitter Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy coming off knee injuries, the health questions are running rampant in Washington.

Those are the Nationals' projected Top 4 hitters and No. 2 starter. If they all stay healthy, they'll put up some whopping numbers. But if history repeats, it will make the road quite a bit tougher despite a weak NL East.

Projected lineup

1. Adam Eaton - LF
2. Trea Turner - SS
3. Bryce Harper - RF
4. Anthony Rendon - 3B
5. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
6. Howie Kendrick - 2B
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael Taylor - CF

Projected rotation

1. Max Scherzer
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Gio Gonzalez
4. Tanner Roark
5. A.J. Cole


When healthy, this may be the most talented roster in the NL. Harper, Rendon, Murphy and Turner could all wind up as serious contenders in the 2018 MVP race while Scherzer and Strasburg figure to garner some Cy Young votes once again.

The Nationals also have the advantage of a pretty rough division, at least on paper. Three teams are rebuilding and the Mets haven't made the playoffs in a couple years now. Getting to play 18+ games against all four of those teams is a godsend.

Which is good news for a Nationals fanbase that is absolutely starving for some actual postseason success. Wade Davis and the Cubs knocked Washington out last fall and 2018 represents what figures to be the final chance to win it all (or even win A playoff series) with Harper before he gets a $400 million deal elsewhere (like Chicago??).

The 2018 Nationals have no holes. If any of their starters falter, they have Hellickson available. If any of their position players struggle, they have depth in the form of Kendrick (once Murphy is healthy), Montero, Adams, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin.

And the bullpen is very, very good thanks to a bunch of moves before the 2017 Trade Deadline and also have Benoit and Koda Glover expected to start the season on the DL.

The Nationals will be playing in October this year. But what they do in the postseason is a question that won't be answered for 6 months. 

Prediction: 1st in NL East, playoffs