Should Cubs expect payback from Cardinals after Matt Holliday’s injury?

Should Cubs expect payback from Cardinals after Matt Holliday’s injury?

Should the Cubs expect payback from the St. Louis Cardinals after a Mike Montgomery fastball broke Matt Holliday’s right thumb? 

It’s the fuse waiting to be lit, given the history between these two teams and the escalating tensions within the rivalry, the Cardinals no longer being “the big brother,” as Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer has said, or big fans of Joe Maddon’s “Try Not To Suck” act.

That might have been Holliday’s last at-bat in a St. Louis uniform on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, depending on the treatment plan and whether or not the Cardinals pick up the All-Star outfielder’s $17 million option for 2017 or pay the $1 million buyout.

“That’s an absolute accident,” Maddon said Friday. “It just depends on your philosophy within, how you’ve been raised, what you think is the right way to do things. We’ve all had different parents, so some people react to situations one way.

“Truthfully, if that had happened to us, there’s no reason to (respond). It’s purely an accident. You know when something’s intentionally done or not. It really comes down to parenting.”

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With the best record in baseball and a double-digit lead in the division, Maddon took a more measured tone than last year’s calculated “Sopranos” rant, comparing the Cardinals to a crime family and saying he never read the franchise’s book on how to play the game.

“Was that a rant?” Maddon said. “It was a mini-rant. I don’t know. We’ll wait and see. I’d like to believe that the other side would determine, obviously, that it was an accident. But, again, it always comes down to parenting.”

Montgomery hadn’t pitched in a game since July 31, or really established himself at all since getting traded from the Seattle Mariners three weeks ago. The lefty swingman drilled Holliday, the third batter he faced, with two outs in the 10th inning of a tie game.

“It was just a pitch that got away,” Montgomery said after earning the win in a 4-3 walk-off victory that took 11 innings. “I never want to hurt anybody. I feel bad. It’s a part of baseball and it’s unfortunate. I was just trying to go in right there and it kind of went away from me a little bit.

“I would never want to see (that happen) to anybody. Your intent is never to do that. I definitely feel for him. It wasn’t on purpose. It was just one of those pitches in a big part of the game.”

Ex-Cub Andrew Cashner recently called retaliation part of “The Cardinal Way” after St. Louis hit Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, echoing Maddon’s vigilante message from last September.

“It happens,” Maddon said. “It’s just like ‘Stropy’ (Pedro Strop) sliding to pick up a ball and hurts his knee. It’s an accident. Montgomery is definitely not trying to hit (Holliday). At the end of the day, man, it does come down to parenting and what you’re taught and what you believe is the right way to do things.”

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

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.