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.

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.