Cubs

Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs

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Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs

Jason Hammel sat down with pitching coach Chris Bosio during the rain delay and watched video, trying to break down what went wrong during a season that’s gone so right for the Cubs (so far).

“It’s one of those nights where it seemed like they knew what was coming,” Hammel said after a 10-8 loss that saw the Detroit Tigers generate 19 hits as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning.

Wrigley Field had gotten loud and felt like a playoff atmosphere. For a moment, it became hard to tell which team recently fired its general manager, traded away its best pitcher and started to play for the future.

Dave Dombrowski is now running baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox, David Price is pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tigers aren’t the same monster team that won four division titles in a row.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue]

But for all the optimism on the North Side, the Cubs (67-50) haven’t accomplished anything close to that run yet. They absolutely need Hammel if they’re going to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates, hold off the San Francisco Giants and play deep into October.

“It’s unacceptable right now,” Hammel said. “We’re in the middle of something special.”

The Cubs still hold the second wild-card position, running three games behind the Pirates and three games in front of the Giants in what should be six-plus weeks of dramatic, meaningful baseball.

Detroit (57-61) hit Hammel hard in the first inning, almost drilling back-to-back-to-back homers – Miguel Cabrera’s line drive to left field became a ground-rule double after a replay review showed fan interference – and that started the “Let’s go Tigers!” chants.

Hammel put the Cubs in a 3-0 deficit and then gave up a two-run homer to Anthony Gose in the second inning, creating more questions about Joe Maddon’s quick hook, last month’s hamstring injury and the potential for a stretch-run fade after a first half that approached an All-Star level.

Maddon allowed Hammel to throw only 65 pitches in his last outing, and the manager pulled the veteran right-hander after four-plus innings in the start before that. The Cubs wound up winning both those games and going on a nine-game winning streak.

This time, Mother Nature made the decision for Maddon with a tornado watch, a flash flood warning and a rain delay that started in the third inning and lasted two hours and 17 minutes.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said Hammel is healthy, the velocity is there and the stuff is good: “He’s trying like way too hard.”

“I’ve probably been out of sync for the last few starts, but physically I feel fine,” Hammel said. “For whatever reason, mechanically, execution-wise, I’m not getting the ball down in the zone the way I did before. We’ll go back to the drawing board.

“Effort-wise, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different. I’m not trying to overthrow. Sometimes, less is more. It’s disappointing to go out there and have good stuff – like I did tonight – and just kind of get hit around the yard.”

The Tigers wound up beating Pedro Strop with finesse in the eighth inning. With Bob Costas up in the Wrigley Field press box calling the game for MLB Network, Detroit bunted for two singles before Strop walked Cabrera and J.D. Martinez drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center field.

The crowd of 39,684 had almost disappeared by then, with wide stretches of empty green seats throughout the ballpark. Strop intentionally walked pinch-hitter Victor Martinez before Nick Castellanos lifted a soft single into shallow right field to score two more runs.

The Cubs are supposed to be the rising power now and believe they can play with anyone. That starts with pitching.

“I don’t want anybody to change anything right now,” Maddon said. “I promise you, I mean that sincerely: There’s nothing I would change about our guys right now. Some have met adversity and fought through it. Others have been there, done that before and they understand how to do it.”

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

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USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.