Baseball

I remember Joe Sheehan (who had an interesting and misguided angle on last night’s trade) writing about this the night after THE NIGHT in Cubs history. It was about how random it was for Mike Montgomery to be on the mound to get the last out. How he had been traded three times, never really flourished, seemed a surplus-acquisition at the time, ended up being pretty useful in a couple of roles, and here he was throwing the biggest pitch in Cubs history. Baseball can be strange that way.

And it can also be strange in that not even three years later, you’re now surplus to requirements and headed to the basement, standings-wise, in Kansas City. Baseball can be fickle, too.

So it proved with Montgomery, who kind of pitched himself out of a role this season. It’s rare that a pitcher can hang onto the “tweener” role for a lot of years. If you’re not good enough to start and pretty much not good enough to take a prominent relief role, eventually you’re just plain not going to be good enough. Something happened to Monty’s fastball/sinker this year and he’d been straight gasoline. The future wasn’t bright either, as if even two spots were to open in the rotation next year (one is more likely if any), then Adbert Alzolay is going to take it.

Montgomery made it clear he wanted to start, and that’s his prerogative. His stuff does lean toward starter, I just don’t think his stuff is good enough to negotiate a lineup two or three times. Not our problem now. He requested out, he got his request, and we thank him for his services. He wasn’t going to be the long man here with Chatwood around (though Joe Maddon doesn’t want to seem to use him in that role either), he’s never been a LOOGY and definitely should be aiming for higher than that, and doesn’t have the stuff to be a shutdown guy. No use trying to jam it into the puzzle here.

So to Martin Maldonado, who was available for just money in the winter. The Cubs demurred, preferring to let Victor Caratini assume the backup role, which he’s done with aplomb. It seems really odd that the Cubs would trade an actual something for a catcher merely to fill in one or two days while Willson Contreras is hurt. So what’s really going on here? And what changed between the winter and now?

The obvious answer, and one nearest the conspiracy theorist’s heart, is that Caratini is about to be part of a package to bring another reliever or bat to the Northside. You’d have to think there’s some market for a young, switch-hitting catcher who can hit and has decent enough framing numbers. He also walks. There is some puff to Caratini’s numbers, but his contact numbers suggest it isn’t much puff. Considering the rest he’s been able to provide Contreras over the past few weeks, you could see where the Cubs would be comfortable riding Willy hard (phrasing?) in the season’s last two months. That is if he were healthy, which he’s not, and while the Cubs are saying it won’t be more than the 10 days for his arch problem, the fact that it could have been made worse playing on it doesn’t exactly instill you with confidence about the rest of the season.

Maldonado definitely can’t hit, but he can catch and frame and all that, and is pretty much the definition of a backup catcher for hire these days. If he’s just third on the depth-chart, it would seem weird that the Cubs want to carry three catchers. Maddon hated doing it in the past when Contreras came up in 2016, but there was little choice given David Ross‘s and Miguel Montero‘s statuses.

If Caratini is traded, it would first obviously depend on the return, and second would put the Cubs in the exact same situation next winter that Caratini bailed them out of this time around. No backup for Contreras, signing some plug and perhaps overworking Willson. I guess that’s a minor problem in the grand scheme of things, though.

Some of the more mischievous around would opine that it actually means more of Contreras in right field, letting Caratini catch to boost the offense. Given how highly the Cubs rate defense (it’s why Russell and Almora still get starts, people), and that would give the Cubs possibly the worst defensive outfield in baseball (Heyward isn’t that good in center despite what you might think), I find that hard to believe. It would be creative, I’m just not sure if it wouldn’t be creatively destructive. Especially as so far this year, only Cole Hamels has kept things on the ground at more than an average or below-average rate.

For right now, the Cubs lost a nothing to gain really a nothing, and that’s all it may be if Maldonado is moved to Iowa when Contreras is healthy and is basically here to save us from the Taylor Davis Experience ever again. It’s what comes next that’s interesting.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Marlins 6, Cubs 5

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 5, Marlins 2

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 3, Marlins 2 (11)

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 4, Marlins 1

If I were truly miserable and wanting to pawn that off on the rest of the world to dissipate my pain, I would complain about the Cubs not sweeping this sad sack outfit. But hey, they’ve gone 6-1 against this excuse to siphon public funds, and after sweeping the Cardinals you’re probably allowed one hiccup. 6-1 on the homestand will definitely play. Let’s wrap it up.

The Two Obs

-There is some worry right at the top. Pedro Strop’s injury, which is going to take a few weeks, leaves the Cubs even more shorthanded in the pen. It also leaves them without a for-sure strikeout option. Don’t worry about not having a closer, as the Cubs can finally just match it up in the late innings which they should have been doing anyway. But unless Carl Edwards Jr. finds it, there is no one out of the pen who can get through an inning without any contact. The Cubs have survived the past two games, and a big thank you to Mike Montgomery, but this is a AAA lineup they were facing at best. There are much bigger challenges and outs to get coming, and the Cubs have no sure thing to get them right now. And the answers to those are probably as far away as Strop’s recovery. Teams don’t make trades in May, but the Cubs might have to find a way.

-Secondly, this is Strop’s second hammy injury in two seasons, and you have to be a touch worried this is just going to be a thing that keeps happening. And he’s as close to indispensable as they have.

-Anyway, good thing Kris Bryant has gone plaid lately, because some of the other pistons in the offensive engine have gone…well, whatever pistons go that’s bad. I’m not a car guy. Bote is hitting .196 the last two weeks. Schwarber has one extra-base hit in a week. Heyward is 2-for-his-last-24. But hey, this is how it’s supposed to go. One part goes down, the other goes up. Hey, that’s kind of like pistons!

-They’re going to have to lower beer prices at Wrigley when Yu Darvish pitches. I can’t afford to drink at that pace. It’s the same thing we’ve talked about before, where he’s trying to be too perfect and is afraid of any contact on his pitches. He had a plethora of hitters down 0-2 or 1-2 but wouldn’t come anywhere near the plate. This isn’t about injury. Darvish has come back from a long absence before. It’s not about ability, because he’s never been this wild before. It’s in his head. But they’re still winning his starts, and winning around them, and have bought him time to figure it out. The Cubs haven’t needed him yet. They will though.

-But Montgomery gives them some options. So does Chatwood. They may have to keep one always in reserve to piggyback on Darvish. But this would be the way to mask your holes in the pen, wouldn’t it? Just have Chatwood or Monty throw a couple or three innings and keeping everyone else to a couple innings a week? That’s a solution. It’s worth trying I think.

-The Brewers have moved into second place. They move in here tomorrow. Maybe time to stamp some authority on this bitch.