Chicago Cubs

LIVE: Cubs trailing Dodgers 9-2 at Wrigley

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LIVE: Cubs trailing Dodgers 9-2 at Wrigley

Friday, April 22, 2011
Posted: 10:04 a.m.
Associated Press

Despite the drama surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp has made a recent habit of dramatic hits in helping them win four of five.

Los Angeles will try to keep rolling as Chad Billingsley looks to build on his best outing of the season in the opener of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Kemp hit his second game-ending home run in five days, a two-run shot in the 12th inning to beat Atlanta 5-3 on Thursday. It marked the second straight victory for the Dodgers (10-10) since commissioner Bud Selig announced Wednesday that Major League Baseball seized control of the team due to the well-publicized divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his wife.

Andre Ethier went 2 for 5 on Thursday, extending his career-best hitting streak to 18 games. Kemp and Either are tied with Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro atop the NL with 30 hits.

"Matty's awesome," said starter Clayton Kershaw, who gave up a two-out, two-run single in the ninth allowing Atlanta to take the lead. "I told him what an incredible job he did and thanks for picking me up.

"In that situation, where both bullpens are getting eaten up, for Matty to pull it out like that with an 0-2 count, it was an awesome at-bat."

Kemp ended Billingsley's last start with a two-run homer in the ninth, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 victory against St. Louis on Sunday. Billingsley (1-1, 4.91 ERA) pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out 11.

He's won his last two starts against the Cubs, allowing six earned runs in 12 1-3 innings. The right-hander is 3-3 with a 3.79 ERA in eight appearances versus Chicago (9-9).

Billingsley will be opposed by Casey Coleman (1-0, 4.22), who is coming off a solid outing of his own.

The right-hander allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings Saturday, beating Colorado 8-3. He's never faced the Dodgers.

Chicago split a doubleheader Wednesday against San Diego, as Reed Johnson homered in the bottom of the 11th for a 2-1 victory in the opener before the Cubs fell 5-4 in the second game.

Manager Mike Quade has been pleased with the play of his club, though he said there's still a long way to go.

"We've got to work some things out and we still have to get better," Quade told the team's official website. "I'm just so pleased with the effort."

Castro, the youngest player in the majors, went 1 for 9 in the doubleheader but is hitting .375 with a team-high 14 runs. He's hit in each of the first three spots in the lineup this season.

"The 1-2-3 hole could be musical chairs depending on who I have in the lineup on a particular day," Quade said. "Other than my cleanup hitter (Aramis Ramirez), everybody's able to adjust and understands if we do make some changes."

However, the Dodgers may pose a problem for Castro as he went 3 for 22 (.136) in six games against them in 2010.

Los Angeles won three of four meetings at home last season, but the Cubs took two of three in Chicago.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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

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USA TODAY

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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USA TODAY

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.