Cubs

Kris Bryant homers, drives in 4 as Cubs beat Rockies

Kris Bryant homers, drives in 4 as Cubs beat Rockies

Mike Montgomery was on a strict pitch count but did all he could to stretch it in his starting debut for the Chicago Cubs.

Montgomery pitched four hitless inning before the low pitch count and a mistake ended his day two outs too soon, as the Cubs cruised to a 9-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.

Kris Bryant launched a long homer and drove in four runs, and Ben Zobrist had three hits and also went deep for Chicago.

Montgomery was solid in his first start since coming over in a trade with Seattle on July 20 but didn't stick around long enough to earn the decision. Manager Joe Maddon was cautious with the young left-hander and took him out after giving up a one-out homer in the fourth, the first and only hit he allowed.

Montgomery threw just 60 pitches but had not started since July 17 with the Mariners. His first seven appearances with Chicago were out of the bullpen, so Maddon kept him on a strict pitch count.

"It's almost like spring training for him right now. Just stretching him out," Maddon said. "I thought he was outstanding. Would I have loved to have left him out there? Absolutely."

He walked two batters through four innings and got Ryan Raburn to start the fifth, but Nick Hundley got Colorado's first hit off the lefty with a solo blast to left that made it 7-1.

Maddon took him out after the homer and Trevor Cahill (3-3) pitched the final 4 2/3 innings for the win.

"As a competitor I wanted to stay in," Montgomery said. "I was a little pissed but I understand the situation and the pitch count. That's just how it goes. I felt good but I respect the decision."

Miguel Montero had three hits and drove in three for the Cubs, who spoiled the major league debut of Rockies starter Jeff Hoffman.

"I felt very comfortable here," Hoffman said. "I don't know why that was. I was really expecting to be nervous, to be jittery, all that stuff. For my first big league game, this was exactly what I was expecting."

Hoffman (0-1), a former first-round pick who was acquired a year ago as part of the deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto, started off well but ran into trouble the second time through against the NL Central leaders.

Bryant made it 7-0 in the fifth with his 31st homer, a three-run drive that went an estimated 469 feet to dead center.

It was scoreless until the fourth, when Dexter Fowler led with a single, went to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Hoffman and came home on Bryant's single.

Anthony Rizzo followed with a single, Zobrist's double made it 2-0 and Montero beat the shift with a two-run single to right.

"The three-run homer hurt," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "The big one was that two-run single by Montero. We get an out there, we're in good shape."

Hoffman allowed seven runs - six earned - on seven hits in four-plus innings.

The Cubs added a run in the eighth and another on Zobrist's 14th homer in the ninth.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.