Today is July 1st, which means that my favorite holiday of the year—the Fourth of July—is just around the corner, that I will be moving back to Chicago from London tomorrow, and that I, as I have
since the beginning of time since the beginning of the season, will sit down and write about the top Cubs’ contributors and moments from the previous month. If you want a brief technical summary of what this means, please feel free to jump over to the original version of this series, in which I lay out the criteria I use to pick the players and plays for these recaps. If you don’t care, and just want to move on to the good stuff, please note only that the top plays I indicate are the top plays for each player I mention, and may or may not (probably not) correspond to the top plays of the month overall.
Enough wiffle-waffle. Let’s start talking about some guys who’ve done good things this season, starting with Mr. We Are Good himself …
5. Miguel Montero, C (0.3): Montero has slipped out of the public consciousness to some degree, I think mainly because other events—winning, for one thing, and the emergence of young players, for another—have dominated storylines. That said, he’s remained a truly solid performer for this team, and continues to have some of the funniest post-game interviews I can remember. His top play of June came on the 11th, against Michael Lorenzen of the Reds, when he drove a first-inning, full-count mistake into the seats, scoring Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and putting the Cubs up 3-0 in a game they would eventually win 6-3. Take a look. The pop is real.
4. Addison Russell, 2B (0.4): Russell is another one who’s flown a bit under the radar of late, surfacing only occassionally to make a sparkling defensive play every now and then. Still, he’s been a consistently solid performer, and has made the transition to the bigs seem easy. His top play of the month also came on a homer, this one off of Shaun Marcum of the Indians in an absolute laugher of a game (17-0, Chicago, on the 17th of June) that actually resulted in Marcum being DFA’d (he’s now with Triple-A Columbus). In any event, Russell launched a two-run bomb in the second inning that scored Chris Denorfia and put the Cubs up by four. I won’t link to a video here, because that just seems mean to Marcum, but I will say that this was one of the more entertaining games of what has been an extremely entertaining season for Chicago.
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (0.8): Another month, another third-place finish in this series for Rizzo. That’s all right. Over the course of the season, nobody has been better for the Northsiders, and with luck and a fair wind he’ll find himself in Cincinnati over the All-Star break, representing the Cubs. His top play, unlike the two we’ve already discussed, came not on a home run, but on a single in the tenth inning of a tie game against the Twins’ Blaine Boyer. That single advanced Dexter Fowler to third, and he would eventually score on a Starlin Castro single in a game the Cubs ended up winning 4-1. So, not a bomb, but the big guy still came through.
2. Kris Bryant, 3B (0.9): Speaking of big guys, how about the season Kris Bryant is having? There aren’t many rookies who can step into the major leagues and immediately become one of the top 20 players in the game, but that’s exactly what Bryant has done. Were it not for Joc Pederson, who’s putting up crazy numbers in Los Angeles, Bryant would have the Rookie of the Year award locked up already, and as it is he has a very solid chance to best even Pederson’s silly numbers. Actually, Bryant’s top play of the month came against Pederson’s Dodgers, and Clayton Kershaw, against whom Bryant hit a two-run bomb, scoring Dexter Fowler and putting the game out of reach for Los Angeles. Bryant said after the game that he used to play with Kershaw in video games as a kid, so I imagine that was a cool moment in his young career.
1. Chris Coghlan, LF (1.0): This is why I write these things. If you’d asked me 40 minutes ago who the Cubs’ best player this month was, I definitely wouldn’t have answered ‘Chris Coghlan’. And yet, Coghlan put up a superb .317/.434/.451 for the month, and currently owns the majors’ longest games-played streak. You really can never tell. His top play of the month came on June 10th against the Tigers’ Shane Green, when Coghlan hit a three-run bomb, putting the Cubs up 4-1. For your viewing pleasure:
Good for Coghlan, who’s had an up-and-down career since winning the 2009 Rookie of the Year award with the Marlins. This is definitely an up, and he (and the Cubs) have to be enjoying it. Let’s turn to the pitchers, beginning with:
5. Justin Grimm, RP (0.4): In my recap of yesterday’s win against the Mets, I noted that the Cubs bullpen has been good—really good—for the last month or so. In fact (and I’m sorry for repeating this here) they have the second-best ERA for the month (1.63) of any team except the Cardinals (1.54). Couldn’t really be any other way, could it? Anyway, Justin Grimm has been a big part of that, and his top play of the month came on June 4th, when he induced a foul out from Dan Uggla with runners on first and second of a one-run game. Hey, all outs count the same.
4. Jon Lester, SP (0.4): If you’ve followed Andrew Felper’s ‘Ballad of Jon Lester’ series, you’ll know that this has been a rough month, at times, for Lester. Still, even marginal performance adds up over enough starts, and Lester has been the fourth-best member of the Cubs’ rotation for the past month. His best moment of the month came on June 20th, against the Twins, when he compelled Trevor Plouffe to ground into a double play and got himself out of a jam in the first inning. It was that kind of month for Lester: his best play could only come about because he’d put runners on first and second in the first inning.
3. Kyle Hendricks, SP (0.5): Hey, it’s last night’s hero! Hendricks has been one of my favorite Cubs ever since he came over from the Rangers, and he showed signs this month of regaining his excellent 2014 form. Last night was no exception, as he threw six shutout innings against an (admittedly weak) Mets offense. His top play of the month, however, came very early on, when on June 2nd in Miami, with the bases loaded and one out, he got Justin Bour to pop out to shortstop. Later that inning, unfortunately, Hendricks got knocked around a bit and had to come out of the game, but at the time it was a shining moment.
2. Jake Arrieta, SP (0.9): He’s really good. Arrieta continues to be revelatory, though the nature of natural interest in the Next Best Thing has dimmed the brightness of the spotlight on him somewhat. June was just more of the same for Arrieta, who put up a 2.45 ERA over five excellent starts. His top moment of the month came on June 4th, when with the bases loaded and two out, he got Ian Desmond of the Nationals to line out to first. I mean, I say he ‘got’ Desmond to do it, but a line drive isn’t really what any pitcher is looking for in that situation. Eh. It worked.
1. Jason Hammel, SP (0.9): I’m not ashamed to say that I love Jason Hammel, and it got a lot easier this month, with another superb performance. Hammel should be getting some down-ballot support for the All-Star game, and might yet end up there depending on how the rosters shake out. In June, Hammel put up a 2.80 ERA over 35.1 excellent innings pitched, and struck out a somewhat extraordinary (for him) 10.44 batters for every nine innings pitched. His top play of the month, like Arrieta’s, came against the Nationals, when he got Ryan Zimmerman to ground into a double play to shortstop in the sixth inning of a close game, nabbing Denard Span at second and moving the game into the seventh inning.
And there you have it! The top plays of an essentially breakeven (14-13) month of June for the Cubs. On to July, and bigger and better things for a resurgent franchise.
Lead photo courtesy of Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports