What We Learned: Cubs Split Pair as Baseball Returns
It was what every Cubs fan was waiting for since Mike Montgomery got the final out to beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.
Kasper and J.D. were on the call, WGN was live on the air, Montgomery was now throwing out the season’s first pitch for the Cubs, and wouldn’t ‘ya know it, one game even ended with a song last sang by Cubs fans at the World Series-winning rally in Grant Park back in November.
The Cubs were back, starting the season as World Champions for the first time since 1909, when Mordecai Brown and Orval Overall were on the mound. That team went on to go 104-49 and finish second in the league. If the Cubs are destined to win 104 games this year, Montgomery is likely to be a big part of that kind of successful campaign and all eyes were on him on Saturday as he sought to make his claim for the fifth starter’s role.
Against the A’s, Montgomery looked a little rusty, but self-admittedly, it was because of the energy and adrenaline. The line says two walks and two Ks – hardly the kind of performance that will cost him the fifth starter’s role. Joe Maddon sent some mixed mixed messages in the past two days, saying that the “sky’s the limit” for Montgomery’s potential, while also going classic Maddon, saying that Montgomery and Brett Anderson could share the No. 5 spot in the rotation as part of a “hybrid”.
Montgomery still has a firm grasp on the spot. Anderson in a distant second with Alec Mills, Eddie Butler and Rob Zastryzny distant options, even if they have strong springs. Zastryzny looked sharp in his spring outing, opening the Giants game with a clean first inning. He should headline Iowa’s rotation this year unless he can unseat Anderson for the left-handed long relief role.
The race for the leader of the centerfield platoon started strong, with John Jay going 2-for-2 with a double against the A’s, while Albert Almora Jr., had a hit against the Giants. Matt Sczur even gave us a “remember me?” with a 2-RBI day as he battles for the last bench spot against Tommy La Stella.
Of the core of hitters, Javier Baez probably looked the best as he haunted the Giants … again … with a two-hit day, while Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell went a combined 1-for-9 with a run. Remember, that’s OK.
Overall, great day. First, because baseball is back. Second, because even the first two games showed progress in the key battles in Cubs camp.
Observations from the Couch
Everyone Freak Out, Part I: Jason Heyward (gasp) … went 0-for-3 with an RBI against the A’s! Said somewhere in Chicago ” … ‘lotta good that work on his swing got us.” Believe it or not, his swing had more purpose and ease and looked more functional than most of last year.
Everyone Freak Out, Part II: Said somewhere in Chicago … “We let Chapman walk and brought in this Tommy Nance and Jim Henderson (combined 7 earned runs, 7 hits, 2 walks in Cubs 8-6 loss to the Giants)?” While I don’t think our bullpen is the best in the league at this point, there’ll be better days than today in the late innings. Actual Opening Day bullpen competitors Brian Duensing and Felix Pena each looked strong with scoreless innings.
Henry Rowengartner’s Return: Remember when Dusty would let his kids go get the bats and bring them back to the dugout? Kinda got some flashbacks when Jason Vosler came to bat for Rizzo … he looks so young! One at-bat later, he stroked a nice single with a very smooth swing. (Dusty’s would’ve pinch-hit Neifi Perez for him.)
Klassic Kasper: “If you have the last name Berg and you’re a pitcher, doesn’t your nickname have to be “ice”?” That was said shortly before Jim Deshaies announced to everyone that he had stopped keeping score in the game. Did I mention I love Spring Training split-squad baseball?
Quisenberry Alert: Ice Berg fired a couple torpedos from his submarine delivery and looked pretty good doing it. He pitched a clean seventh with a nice punch-out and got the W. If injuries do occur, I like him.
That Look: Ian Happ looks like the type of player Cardinals fans will absolutely hate. I love him already.