What You Need to Know: Seven sterling innings from Mike Montgomery headlined a convincing victory over the Pirates, who fall to eight games back in the NL Central. Timely hitting early from Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs all the runs they needed, and Javier Baez flashed his glove and arm at shortstop once again.
Next Level: Montgomery continues to show why he will slot well into the Cubs rotation behind Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks in 2018, and continues to acquit those of us who wanted him to be the team’s fifth starter to begin this year. The tall lefty’s numbers as a starter this year are impeccable for someone who would snag the last spot in a rotation: in nine games and 46 ⅓ innings prior to Monday’s start, Montgomery had struck out 20.8 percent of hitters and walked only 8.1 percent, both better than his numbers as a reliever this year. He’s also induced 62.2 percent groundballs on balls in play, better than his 56 percent career average. With his time this season split between the rotation and ‘pen, it’s difficult to parse his pitch selection and other trends, but when Montgomery’s sinker-curveball-changeup trio is working, he’s an exceptionally good groundball pitcher.
On the evening, Montgomery allowed five hits, struck out four, and walked nary a hitter. Pirates hitters beat his curveball into the Wrigley Field dirt, and his changeup baffled both righties and lefties. With two starters departing for free agency, Montgomery’s excellence is welcome.
Top Play (WPA): Andrew McCutchen led off the seventh inning with a single, but Josh Bell promptly grounded right to Baez on a 1-0 pitch, resulting in a textbook double play (+.116). As with many low-scoring games that feature few runs late, the top play was a defensive one.
The bottom of the inning featured a quartet of hits and a Sean Rodriguez throwing error (plus another errant throw from catcher Chris Stewart), plating three runs total and putting the game away for the Cubs.
Bottom Play (WPA): After Anthony Rizzo laced a double into the teeth of the shift in right, and Ian Happ singled him home, Alex Avila grounded a 2-2 pitch to second, killing the rally with a double play (-.065). Despite this, Avila has been finding hard contact often lately, and he’s managed to match his impressive offensive output with the Tigers.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports