Given all the feel-good stories the 2016 Cubs have provided and the up-and-coming studs that populate most of the roster, it’s been easy to gloss over the guy whose baseball career is trending the wrong way. Last year, Miguel Montero was one of the veterans who helped elevate a young Cubs’ clubhouse, providing value behind the plate while slashing a respectable line and coining the #WeAreGood catchphrase that perfectly captured the happy-go-lucky team that came out of nowhere.
It’s been a different story for the 32-year-old this year. The Cubs have been a powerhouse, but Montero has battled injuries, slashed a sad .195/.320/.311 line, and watched the electrifying Willson Contreras take away large chunks of his playing time. By all accounts, he’s handled it like a pro, but with Contreras getting the nod during Jake Arrieta’s last three starts, there’s open discussion about whether Montero will even make the playoff roster.
That’s why it was so satisfying to see Montero, the last guy left on the bench, step up to the plate with the bases loaded and none out in the 13th inning of a tie game against the Pirates on Monday night. Anything but a strikeout or ground ball would likely end the game, and Miggy obliged by shooting a walk-off single into left field, handing the Cubs a 8-7 win in the opening game of this homestand.
It was a fittingly weird ending to one of the weirdest Cubs games this year, one in which the Cubs blew a three-run lead, recovered from a three-run deficit, saw Javy Baez get thrown out at the plate twice in extras and then recovered from another one-run deficit to win. The Cubs are now sitting on a 14-game lead atop the National League Central with their magic number down to 19. The game won’t mean much in the big picture, but getting rewarded with a moment like that at the end of a long night was an appreciated reminder of what makes this sport great. #woow
Top Play (WPA): Literally two hours before Monday’s game ended, the Cubs were down to their final two outs when Jorge Soler hit one of his patented laser home runs (+0.470) to tie the game at 6. The dinger completed the comeback from a three-run deficit that began in the eighth with a two-run Contreras home run to straightaway center filed. After a frustrating start to the season, Soler is batting .269/.328/.538 since returning from the Disabled List on August 5.
Bottom Play (WPA): About an hour before that Soler home run, the Cubs had held a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning when Jake Arrieta worked himself into a jam, putting two runners on with one out. He retired Andrew McCutchen but hung a pitch to Gregory Polanco, and the right fielder took it for an opposite-field home run (-0.426) that suddenly put the Cubs in a one-run hole. At the time, it felt like a huge momentum shift. What a weird sport.
Key Moment: Though the Pirates scratched a run across against Rob Zastryzny to take the lead in the top of the 13th, it certainly feel like the Cubs weren’t going to go quietly on a night like Monday. Dexter Fowler, Mr. “You Go We Go,” proved that hunch correct with a leadoff single that set the tone for the bottom of the inning (+0.133). The heart of the lineup came in to set up the Montero walkoff, with singles from Kris Bryant (+0.331) and Anthony Rizzo (+0.281) and an intentional walk to Ben Zobrist loading the bases.
Trend to Watch: Since the Cubs’ most pressing questions right now involve how they will set up their roster and lineup for October, let’s check in on three situations that could loom large in the postseason.
- Jason Heyward extended his hitting streak to eight games with a well-struck single to right field in the second inning. He added a double into the right-field corner in the eighth, which got Cubs color commentator Jim Deshaies raving about a mechanical change Heyward made by moving his hands further from his body. He’s now 10-for-29 since his weekend off at Coors Field, and while it’s an extremely small sample size, a continued upward trend would make Cubs fans feel better about having him in the lineup in October.
- Arrieta made his third start with Willson Contreras as his batterymate, and though it wasn’t as sterling as their last collaboration against a lousy Padres lineup, there were some positive signs. Arrieta issued an acceptable three walks, though two opposite field homers spoiled his outing. Elsewhere, Contreras hit a big home run, threw two runners out at second base and nearly botched a rundown in which he ran down Starling Marte but dropped the ball after tagging him. Such is life with the Cubs’ human bottle of five-hour energy.
- Kris Bryant continued his insane hot streak, walking three times, adding that big single and scoring twice. (Ok, so nobody is worried about Kris Bryant in October, I just needed an excuse to mention him.)
Coming Next: The Cubs will face a rookie starter for a fourth straight game as righty Chad Kuhl (3.50 ERA, 113 cFIP, 4.62 DRA) takes the mound. Kuhl didn’t make it out of the third inning when he faced the Cubs on July 9, though the Pirates went on to win that game. Kyle Hendricks (2.46 ERA, 101 cFIP, 3.96 DRA), who has not given up more than three runs in a start since mid-May, will look to extend that streak. First pitch from Wrigley Field is at 7:05 on WGN and MLB Network (for out-of-market fans) and 670 AM.
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports