Cubs

Cubs announce how super rotation will line up to start regular season

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AP

Cubs announce how super rotation will line up to start regular season

A day after announcing that Jon Lester will get the start in the season opener, the Cubs made known the rest of the order for the starting pitchers in their super rotation.

After Lester takes the hill against the Miami Marlins to start the 2018 regular season, the Cubs rotation will go like this: Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana in the second, third and fourth games of that season-opening series against the Fish, then Tyler Chatwood to start the two-game set with the Cincinnati Reds before things turn back over to Lester.

For those following along at home, it also looks like it will be Lester's turn when the Cubs play their first game at Wrigley Field, on April 9 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs start the season with a 10-game road trip through Miami, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

Lester's Opening Day start will be his third in his four seasons since joining the Cubs. After a 4.33 ERA last season, he'll look to put up numbers closer to what he did in 2016, when he was the National League Cy Young runner up thanks to a 2.44 ERA, a 19-5 record and 197 strikeouts.

Hendricks could very well be the best pitcher in this crazy good rotation. Despite some time on the disabled list last season, he finished the regular season with a 3.03 ERA, the lowest among Cubs starters.

Darvish is the big-ticket addition to the Cubs that solidified their World-Series-or-bust expectations for 2018. The four-time All Star dominated the Cubs in last postseason's NL Championship Series before signing a lucrative deal right before the start of spring training.

Quintana has somehow managed to fly under the radar despite excellent numbers throughout his career. His ERA was up a bit last season, but in his first five big league campaigns with the White Sox he turned in a cumulative 3.41 ERA.

Another offseason addition, Chatwood might be baseball's best No. 5 starter. Though he led the NL with 15 losses and fell prey to the Coors Field effect last year with the Colorado Rockies, the pressure should be off with so many high-profile arms in this rotation.

All in all, it's shaping up to be one of the game's best rotations — if not the best. Will it be even better than the Cubs' rotations of recent vintage, ones that had a Cy Young winner in Jake Arrieta?

"We’ve had good ones," manager Joe Maddon said earlier during spring training, "and I think this one has a chance, this one through five has a chance to exceed what’s happened over the last three years."

But Lester cautioned that just because things look promising now doesn't mean it's an automatic trip to the Fall Classic.

"I think everybody looks good on paper," Lester said. "With all these projections and computer programs now that people spit out about what you’re going to do that season, yeah it looks great. But we’ve still got to show up and pitch, we’ve still got to do our job.

"I’m excited about it. It’s a good group, and hopefully we’re able to get going earlier this year on that roll."

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

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.