After last night’s travesty of a game ending, tonight’s Coors Field matchup served as a good palate cleanser. Mike Montgomery shined in his first Cubs start, Trevor Cahill followed with stellar relief work, and the Cubs hitting machine was on display versus a pitcher making his major-league debut. Oh, and since WPA wasn’t available upon game’s end, you get full authorial discretion with the top and bottom plays—please direct all complaints to your nearest wastebasket. This is no-holds-barred, unadulterated editorial, baby! (Editor’s Note: It’s Saturday night, so we’ll let Zack have this one.)
Top Play (WPA): Only two days removed from his monstrous two-homer, five-hit showcase in the series finale against Milwaukee, Kris Bryant decided to add to his impressive season totals and bring his average above the .300 mark. The thin air in Denver only made his impressive night more fun.
The Cubs lead by four to kick off the fifth inning, with pitcher Montgomery leading off the inning. Ryan Raburn, who decided to forget how to play first base on the evening, committed an error, and Montgomery reached first. Dexter Fowler then worked the count full before drawing a walk, putting two on for the streaking Bryant. With rookie Jeff Hoffman on the ropes, Bryant sat fastball on a 3-1 count.
Fastball he received, and it was fat. Hoffman caught the heart of the plate with his mid-90s heater, and Bryant pounced, skying the pitch to center field, deep into the forested batter’s eye. The local broadcast estimated the distance at 469 feet, Bryant’s longest, and nicest, home run of his career. His 31 home runs boosted him into a first-place tie for the National League lead in home runs, and his MVP case only gets stronger as the season marches on.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs played a tight game on all fronts, taking extra bases on hits, making good defensive plays, and hitting with runners in scoring position. Mike Montgomery was exceptional, however, and gave the Cubs their best chance to win.
Into the fifth, Montgomery held the Rockies hitless, striking out five hitters on the strength of his firm four seam fastball. My choice for the game’s bottom play, then is the lone hit “MiMo” surrendered: a hooking home run off the bat of Rockies catcher Nick Hundley, breaking the no-hitter and the shutout, and ending Montgomery’s night. The lefty’s performance will give Joe Maddon and Cubs brass some confidence in their pitching staff, even as John Lackey and Hector Rondon join Pedro Strop on the disabled list. It remains to be seen whether he’ll receive the ball for more starts down the stretch, but with the rotation’s freshness a priority, it would not be out of the question.
Key Moment: Hoffman cruised into the fourth, looking like he would turn in an MLB debut worthy of his second-round draft pick status. He mowed down the Cubs the first time through the order, with under 40 pitches in three innings, bringing Dexter Fowler up to the plate to lead off the fourth. Fowler reached on a sharp single, his second of the day, setting up the game’s key moment.
Perhaps remembering Fowler’s speedster days at Coors Field, Hoffman threw to first baseman Ryan Raburn. Hoffman’s pickoff throw found itself a little too close to Fowler’s body and away from the bag, and Raburn whiffed—the ball careened off the wall behind first, with Fowler and the Rockies’ fielders off to the races. Raburn, DJ LeMahieu, and Carlos Gonzalez were nowhere to be found, however, and Fowler had rounded third, taking two bases, before a defender touched the ball. With Fowler on third with no one out and the meat of the Cubs lineup coming up, it was almost assured that the Cubs would score in the inning. Bryant worked a ten-pitch at-bat and poked a single against the aggressive shift of the Rockies, into right, with Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Montero also squeaking the ball past the infield for base hits, sandwiching a loud Ben Zobrist double. Before the inning was out, the Cubs had tacked on four runs.
Trend to Watch: Cahill turned in a necessary long relief outing the night after a depleted bullpen failed to find a victory late into the Colorado night, ultimately exhausted and defeated. The sole run off of Cahill was partially one of circumstance, as Cahill attacked Rockies pitcher (and former Cub) Chris Rusin head on, giving up a single, followed by another hit to David Dahl, and an RBI groundout to DJ LeMahieu with the infield back. Cahill’s 4 and 2/3 innings of four-hit, one-walk pitching secured a Cubs victory, quelling the racing minds of those recently exposed to the trauma of a late lead at Coors Field.
Coming Next: The series wraps up on Sunday afternoon at 3:10 CDT, on ABC-7 (WLS) in the Chicago market. Jason Hammel (2.75 ERA, 105 cFIP, 4.16 ERA) has been nothing short of excellent since the All-Star break and his sports science/Lays intervention. The Muppet-like right-hander has turned in three consecutive outings in which he hasn’t surrendered a run, and has given up six runs in 43 innings in his last seven starts. Perhaps his mechanics have benefited from a healthier body, something that has eluded Hammel due to his barking hamstring and forearm of seasons past, but, whatever it is, Hammel (perhaps with the exception of Kyle Hendricks) is the best Cubs starter right now. His opponent, Jorge de la Rosa (5.29 ERA, 113 cFIP, 5.22 DRA), has been—to put it generously—bad this season, with no help from his home ballpark after three years of besting the altitude and opposing hitters to mid-three DRAs. Recently he’s been a smidge better, but the Cubs don’t give opposing starters any room to breath. Especially with Kris Bryant going full Super Saiyan.
Lead photo courtesy Ron Chenoy—USA Today Sports