Chicago Cubs

Cubs fall short in sloppy, rain-soaked game at Wrigley

Cubs fall short in sloppy, rain-soaked game at Wrigley

At one point, there were almost more seagulls (and ducks!) on the field than fans in the stands while the game was still being played.

That's how awful the weather got at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon, where the Cubs dropped an ugly, rain-soaked game 6-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs walked 10 batters, committed three errors (leading to two unearned runs), had only six hits and struck out 10 times in a game that took more than five-and-a-half hours to complete (including a two-hour rain delay).

Every ball in the air became an adventure for both teams.

"That was a very awkward day to play baseball," said Joe Maddon, who compared Friday's elements to some of the worst weather he's ever played/managed through.

The announced crowd of 36,923 never quite materialized thanks to a first-pitch temperature that felt like 37 degrees thanks to 17 mph winds. Throw in the constant smattering of rain and the conditions were downright miserable to watch a game in.

But with a ton of rain forecasted for Saturday, the Cubs and Brewers didn't want to take the chance they'd have to make up two games later in the season.

Things were tough for the Cubs from the outset as Eddie Butler walked the first two batters of the game, both of whom came around to score on a two-out single up the middle by Milwaukee catcher Jett Bandy.

Butler — coming off an impressive debut (six shutout innings) in St. Louis over the weekend — only allowed those two runs, but also recorded just nine outs, needing 92 pitches to do so. The 26-year-old walked five batters and allowed three hits, striking out three.

He admitted he couldn't get a good feel on the baseball due to the conditions, but also didn't use that as an excuse.

"Both teams were playing in it," Butler said. "I needed to find a way to get it done and I didn't do that today."

The Cubs battled back in the third when Keon Broxton dropped Javy Baez's fly ball in center field, allowing the Cubs shortstop to motor into second base. Two batters later, Jon Jay singled Baez home.

Willson Contreras added a two-run single in the fourth and the Cubs held the lead as the rains started to pick up.

But Mike Montgomery struggled with his command in the top of the fifth, allowing two runs to score, giving the Brewers a 4-3 lead.

The conditions only continued to worsen and the game was finally delayed after Kyle Schwarber had to range all the way into the infield dirt for a fly ball that clanked off his glove. He compounded the initial error by trying to get a force at second base, but his diving throw wound up in right field instead, leading to two errors on the same play.

As the Brewers runners settled into second and third to start out the sixth inning, the game was finally suspended and the tarp stretched out over the infield.

"That ball should never happen," Maddon said. "That's why they pulled the tarp. ... When a play like that occurs, that also points in the direction that probably the conditions weren't baseball-esque. Please don't blame Schwarber. That's very unjust. The wind and where that ball blew back to, he made a great attempt on it, actually. That's normally the shortstop's ball, but under the circumstances, it was up for grabs, basically."

But after the ball smacked off his glove, should Schwarber have tried to flip it to second?

"He doesn't practice a backhand flip from 40 feet away on a daily basis," Maddon deadpanned. "He was just trying to make a play. If he had made it, it would've been outstanding. But I'm not gonna criticize that." 

When play resumed one hour and 59 minutes later, Domingo Santana greeted Cubs rookie Pierce Johnson — making his MLB debut — with another two-run single to close out the scoring in the afternoon/evening.

Johnson said he couldn't really tell how bad the conditions truly were since he was tucked away in the Cubs bullpen under the left-field bleachers. But when he walked through the doors onto the playing field, he was hit with the wind and rain and said his glasses/goggles actually fogged up initially.

Still, he was happy-go-lucky about the opportunity to make his big-league debut, even if the weather was dreadful.

"That's not how I drew it up," Johnson said. "What an amazing experience. That was so much fun to be out there and finally get out the for the first time and really kinda calm those nerves a bit. Had an absolute blast and got the first one out of the way."

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

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Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

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That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now.

And Major League Baseball noticed.

Rizzo was announced as the National League Player of the Week on Monday after a terrific performance last week.

The Cubs' first baseman collected 12 hits, drove in 13 runs and slashed a ridiculous .429/.484/.750.

The Cubs had a pretty good week as a team, too, winning five of their seven games against the visiting Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays.

They take their three-game winning streak to Ohio to start a three-game set with the Reds on Tuesday.