Chicago Cubs

Zambranos winning streak is over and done

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Zambranos winning streak is over and done

Sunday, April 24, 2011
Posted: 4:40 p.m. Updated: 6:35 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mike Quade walked into the interview room on Saturday afternoon with announcement to make: Kerry Woods vacation is over. The reliever who hadnt pitched since April 16 would start ahead of Carlos Zambrano on Sunday.

The manager was joking, and maybe a little annoyed at people wondering why Wood was sitting in the bullpen that long.

The Cubs do not need a radical solution like moving Wood to the rotation (an idea that also happens to be completely unrealistic). They need Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner to get healthy. They need their big-money pitchers to play up to their contracts. Theyll keep waiting.

The Los Angeles Dodgers buried Zambrano in the first inning of Sundays 7-3 loss in front of 32,943 fans at Wrigley Field. It snapped Zambranos personal 10-game winning streak, the longest for a Cubs pitcher since Rick Sutcliffe won 16 in a row across the 1984-85 seasons.

Its over with, Zambrano said. Lets get a new winning streak. I knew sooner or later I was going to lose a game. Lets move on. Lets focus on my next (one).

The Cubs rank last in the majors with five quality starts this season. They led the National League with 96 last year. As much as anything, that explains why theyre now 10-11 and havent won more than two games in a row.

Just too much to overcome, Quade said. Normally when you get on a roll and you start playing well consistently, it has a lot to do with your starting pitching. And once we get that straightened out, Ill feel pretty good about this thing. Were just very inconsistent in that area right now.

Ex-Cub Aaron Miles who went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored tripled to lead off the game. The first five Dodgers reached base and all five scored. It was pretty much game over at that point.

The Dodgers (12-11) just hammered the ball all weekend, and the Cubs were lucky that they didnt get swept. Los Angeles scored 27 runs during this three-game series.

Were right there, third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. I think weve been lucky because we havent pitched the way we liked to. Were giving up a lot of runs, but Im pretty sure we got some good arms here and the pitchers are going to come around.

The last time Zambrano lost a game June 25, 2010 he was kicked out of U.S. Cellular Field. He steered a question about what hes learned during the streak, how hes grown as a pitcher, back toward the team.

Defensive breakdowns led to that meltdown, but there was Zambrano going over to Darwin Barney and telling the second baseman to forget about the error he just made.

Zambrano promised to get the next guy out in the second, and sure enough he induced an inning-ending double play. Zambrano (2-1, 5.28) allowed six runs on eight hits across five innings. But that response may have been just as revealing.

Z loves to play hard, Barney said. He loves guys that play hard. He knows were playing hard behind him.

At this point, it all depends on whether youre an optimist or a pessimist. The Cubs are still hanging around first place, but theyve missed a real opportunity to create some space within the division.

Until the starters get rolling, Wood will be pitching in low-leverage situations, the Cubs down four runs in the eighth inning, the seagulls flying in and the fans heading toward the exits.

I say (it) every year leaving spring training, especially here in Chicago, Wood said. Get to that first week of May .500 or better, youre in a good spot. Its tough (in) this weather, (but) I think the guys have done a good job. Weve been in a lot of games. (Were) right there. I feel good about what we have here.

Box Score

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel. Jon Lester, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all work out with the Cubs before their game. Which player’s return with have the biggest impact down the stretch?

Plus, the guys discuss how many snaps Mitch Trubisky should take with the first team, debate who won the big Cavs/Celtics deal and Scott Paddock drops by with the latest NASCAR news.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

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.