There's no way the Cubs can take Mike Montgomery out of the rotation

There's no way the Cubs can take Mike Montgomery out of the rotation

Mike Montgomery is a man possessed.

Over the last 7 months, he's made it pretty damn clear he prefers to be a starting pitcher rather than a reliever and he's certainly put his money where his mouth is.

Montgomery tossed another gem Wednesday afternoon in Milwaukee, keeping the division-leading Brewers offense at bay with only 2 hits, a walk and a lone run in 6 innings. In fact, the only Brewers player to reach base safely was Lorenzo Cain, who had a single, walk and a homer as the only blemish.

With the outing, Montgomery lowered his season ERA to 3.31 and WHIP to 1.08. But his numbers as a starter are even more impressive.

The 28-year-old southpaw has a 1.14 ERA and 0.68 WHIP as a member of the Cubs' rotation in 2018, allowing just 13 hits in 23.2 innings.

His fit in the rotation goes well beyond this season.

Dating back to July 19 of last year, Montgomery has a 1.99 ERA and 0.75 WHIP as a starting pitcher in 58.2 innings spanning 11 outings. He's given up more than one run in only two of those 11 starts. Also in that time, he's allowed just 34 hits, 10 walks and 5 homers — absolutely sparkling numbers.

For perspective, Jon Lester has been on a roll this year but over his last 62.2 innings — during which he has a 1.72 ERA — the Cubs ace has still allowed 40 hits and 20 walks (16 more baserunners in only 4 more innings).

Montgomery is simply the Cubs' best pitcher right now and even if he falters a bit in the next couple starts, his recent track record as a member of the rotation is forcing the Cubs' hand.

How could they possibly throw him back in the bullpen right now?

Montgomery's emergence has been both a good thing and a bad thing for a team that's vying for first place in the National League Central. 

On the one hand, the Cubs badly needed a boost in the rotation and that's exactly what Montgomery has given. On the other hand, what do the Cubs do when Yu Darvish is actually healthy and returns to the rotation?

It's a good problem to have. 

Tyler Chatwood's head-scratching control issues would seem to make him a fit to lose a spot in the rotation, but he's also been turning things around of late and feels like he's made an adjustment that will lead to better results on the field. Plus, do you really want a guy who struggles to throw strikes to be pitching 1 or 2 innings at a time out of the bullpen late in games?

Darvish seems like a lock for the rotation when he comes off the disabled list (whenever that might be). The Cubs invested $126 million and 6 years into Darvish and he has a long track record of being an elite big-league starter (his 11.0 K/9 career rate is the best in MLB history for a starting pitcher).

So who does Montgomery bump out? Or do the Cubs just roll with a 6-man rotation right before or after the All-Star Break?

That's a problem for Future Joe Maddon and Future Theo Epstein. We don't know how that will all play out right now, but one thing's for certain: Mike Montgomery is walking the walk.

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

USA Today

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.