Cubs

Cubs band together to fight back against 'confusing' MLB sanctions

Cubs band together to fight back against 'confusing' MLB sanctions

Power in numbers.

When the usually mild-mannered Ben Zobrist fired a shot at Major League Baseball in an Instagram post Saturday afternoon, Joe Maddon supported his longtime player and pointed to the power of people rallying together to enact change.

The "change" hasn't occurred yet, but Zobrist certainly has people rallying together.

Zobrist defied the league and continued to wear his P.F. Flyers and black cleats over the weekend and then again on Monday as the Cubs and Braves made up the game from Jackie Robinson Day on April 15.

Steve Cishek and Kyle Schwarber joined Zobrist in wearing the black cleats Monday afternoon, though that was more for the throwback day and to pay homage to Robinson and the era than specifically trying to make a statement toward the league.

That being said, the players are standing behind Zobrist.

"There's definitely something going on," Cishek said. "Last year, when we had all the nicknames and stuff like that [during Player's Weekend], guys wore whatever they wanted on their shoes and it turned out awesome. MLB gave us full reign to wear whatever we wanted, so they didn't really put any restrictions on us.

"Nobody said anything to us this year. A lot of guys ordered their custom spikes, what they wanted to wear and go out there and show on the field and grow the game. Now all of a sudden, just out of nowhere, they're dropping warnings and fines on people.

"It's just been interesting. If they want us to work together in a lot of situations, then they crunch down on something as small as this, it's just really confusing.

"...It's like, where did this all come from? From what I understand, MLB was telling their companies — New Balance, Nike — 'like hey, they can do whatever they want.' I think the big word here is just confusion amongst the players."

Zobrist echoed those thoughts and said he planned on calling MLB executive Joe Torre Monday evening to try to have a discussion about this particular issue.

His main point of contention is that he's worn the P.F. Flyers at various points the last couple years at Wrigley Field and never heard anything from the league.

"My question's gonna be 'why?'" Zobrist said. "We'll see what kind of answer I get. Why now? I think all players are kinda wondering that. Hopefully I get an answer and we can move forward."

Willson Contreras has also been told by the league he's not allowed to wear his arm sleeve depicting the flag of his home country of Venezuela. 

The sanctions from MLB are confusing to fans, too, who don't understand why their favorite players can't show their individuality and express themselves with their accessories.

"I just heard nothing but positive stuff from fans and players," Zobrist said. "I think that's the direction the game needs to go — more freedom with expression in certain ways like that which are small compared to arm sleeves and other things."

Maddon has very few rules in his clubhouse, famously choosing to let his players be themselves and express themselves however they choose.

So of course he hasn't backed down and still stands behind Zobrist and Co.

"Listen, you know how I am about individuality," Maddon said. "I'm sure the boys may have gotten together and talked about it. I'm anticipating some adjustments to the rule at some point. Whenever the guys hang together, I'm always behind them."

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.